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Could Cannabis Beat Big Pharma To An Alzheimer's Cure? Here's What The Research Says

Life for Alzheimer's patients may be forever changed, thanks to mounting research on cannabinoids and their effect on the brain.

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Betty Gugliotta married the love of her life, John, after college. They moved to Boulder, Colorado where John worked as an engineer for IBM. Together they raised two beautiful children in the colorful foothills of the Rocky Mountains. 

Jeffrey Rotman | Getty Images

Betty loved music. She loved to dance with John in the living room of their modern, 1970’s build, ranch-style home, spinning to the sounds of Sinatra. She was, all at the same time, a supermom, awesome wife, and her community’s best friend.

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Betty was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. She was 71 years old at the time, but some signs of dementia had been there for a few years - often telling the same stories repeatedly over the course of a day, or becoming disoriented and upset in unfamiliar places. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, she would eventually forget her entire life. Minus moments of her singing Sinatra or the occasional recognition of her son.

Does cannabis prevent Alzheimer’s (AD)?

Betty never smoked marijuana. She wasn’t a stranger to a martini or two, but she didn’t do any "drugs." Her generation, in a natural response to decades of Reefer Madness marketing campaigns, was largely ignorant of marijuana's effects. 

But what if Betty had smoked some cannabis in her younger days? Would it have helped?

Recent studies on mice have proven that both CBD and a combination of CBD and THC can help and target the key issue in the brain that causes dementia and AD - a buildup of amyloid-ß (Aß) plaques. The research shows that CBD reduces the plaques’ ability to create inflammation, which in turn limits its toxic effects on our brain cells. Some studies even suggest that CBD can also reduce these concentrations of Aß plague over time.

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That begs the hypothetical question - had Betty been an avid pot smoker and CBD fan in her younger days, would she have still contracted AD? Because research is still limited, I am not qualified to answer that question in a scientific manner. But I have analyzed the studies included in this article and can confidently say that it is within the realm of hypothetical possibility.

What could cannabis do for those living with AD?

In my last article, I briefly touched on the groundbreaking work being done in regard to the effects of cannabis and all cannabinoids have on AD by Dr. Ethan Russo, a Seattle-based neuroscientist and the director of research and development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute.

According to Dr. Russo: “Both THC and CBD have been shown to interfere with the production of abnormal toxic matter in the brains of such patients. This is quite exciting, inasmuch as synthetic drugs designed for similar purposes have yet to advance in the clinic. Both THC and particularly CBD are known neuroprotective agents that hold the potential to slow or perhaps even halt the degenerative process.”

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Russo also asserts that THC taken on its own has proven beneficial in reducing night agitation, enabling people to stay asleep longer throughout the night, which improves the AD patient’s quality of life and appetite. Perhaps most importantly for those suffering from AD, Dr. Russo states that “it is definitely time to move the effort into the clinical arena.”

If, and/or when that happens, the game for people like Betty potentially changes forever, because no synthetic pharmaceutical drugs, most of which have serious side effects, have ever had any positive effect on her AD. Dr. Russo says none have even made it into the clinic phase.  

“There are four FDA-approved pharmaceuticals to treat memory loss in AD, but all have mild benefits on a temporary basis,” says Russo. “These [drugs] are designed to increase the amount of acetylcholine, the memory molecule in the brain that becomes depleted in AD. Interestingly, the terpenoid alpha-pinene is capable of boosting acetylcholine by inhibiting its breakdown, and with fewer side effects than the conventional drugs.”

Learn more about Dr. Russo’s work with CBD, THC and the ‘entourage effect’ as it relates to AD and Parkinson’s. It offers a fascinating discussion full of hope and promise for AD sufferers like Betty, and their families, all due to the wonders of cannabis.