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Can Cannabis Help Those Who Suffer From Dementia?

Some experts believe cannabis prevents plaque build-up associated with the condition.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There are multiple types of dementia. Alzheimer's is one of them, and it affects 1 in 3 seniors. Six million seniors live with dementia and may suffer from debilitating effects such as severe memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, pain, and hallucinations.

Drugs used to treat all types of dementia aim to replace the memory molecule in the brain, but treatments have been unsuccessful in halting the disease's degenerative progression. Many people who have dementia reported that the side effects of these "black box drugs" are as harmful as the symptoms themselves and warn of severe safety risks.

Now some experts believe that cannabis may help stave off dementia. Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and renowned cannabis doctor, explains that there is good evidence shown in laboratory results that CBD and THC together can interfere with the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain, which are the hallmarks of the disorder. Dementia is caused by plaque buildup of the beta-amyloid protein, which becomes lodged between neurons (brain cells), causing loss of function and cell death. 

Related: Large Study Will Examine THC Treatment For Alzheimer's Patients

Cannabis as a treatment

Some believe phytocannabinoids, (THC, CBD, CBG, CBN) found in the cannabis plant, can act as a neuroprotector to prevent the plaque buildup that causes dementia. There are also benefits from using terpenes found in the cannabis plant, such as pinene, which is believed to boost short-term memory, linalool to relieve anxiety, and limonene to alleviate depression.

Doctors and nurses are experimenting with phytocannabinoid formulas and dosing to target and hopefully relieve behavioral and sleep issues of the disease. 

Researchers are hopeful that they can show cannabis medicine to stop or slow the disease with more research. For now, it may not cure dementia, but it will likely alleviate the symptoms and increase the chances for a better quality of life. 

As we age, the ability to produce cannabinoids declines and causes an unbalanced endocannabinoid system (ECS), leaving the body unhealthy and susceptible to illness and disease. The more severe the condition, such as dementia, the higher the level of ECS dysfunction.

When cannabinoid production declines and ECS dysfunction kicks in, deterioration of the brain is accelerated and can cause dementia, memory loss, or Alzheimer's disease.

According to world-leading cannabis researcher David Meiri, "Dementia reduces endocannabinoid activity, and it makes sense that cannabis will compensate that."