Although just a decade ago marijuana was illegal across the United States, medical cannabis is now legal in 36 states, and just in December 2020 the House of Representatives voted in favor of legalization at the federal level. Although medical marijuana is still not yet legal nationwide, the acceptance of cannabis as medicine only continues to grow, with more people than ever before now wondering if medical marijuana could benefit them or their loved ones.

In particular, those who suffer from diseases of the brain like Alzheimer’s, Fronto-Temporal Dementia, and other forms of dementia may find medical cannabis helpful in treating the secondary symptoms of the condition, including agitation, irritability, and loss of appetite. Below I will discuss the use of medical marijuana in patients with dementia, breaking down why those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may find cannabis beneficial, and also hopefully dispel some misconceptions around marijuana, CBD, and dementia.

Cannabis Is a Safe & Effective Treatment for Patients with Dementia

One common myth surrounding marijuana use is that it leads to cognitive decline and even dementia. Although it is true that THC, the primary therapeutic agent in marijuana, may cause short-term impairments in memory, there is little evidence that the effects of THC persist long after intoxication.

In fact, in adults, some studies have demonstrated that the effects of THC entirely subside completely 48 hours after administration, but more research is needed before the effects of cannabis on short and long-term cognitive function are fully understood. That being said, there is currently no evidence to suggest that cannabis use leads to, or worsens, dementia

The few studies that have been conducted on the use of medical marijuana in dementia patients largely show that THC can help secondary symptoms of dementia like agitation and loss of appetite. These studies also note that unlike first-line medications prescribed for dementia, which can have unpleasant side effects, THC tends to be largely well tolerated by patients and may even offset some of the side effects of these other medications. Ultimately, when used in conjunction with first-line medications, medical marijuana rich in THC may greatly improve the quality of life in those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

Those With Dementia Should Avoid CBD Oil

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid or type of medicine found in marijuana that has become increasingly popular over the past few years due to its lack of intoxication side effect. Unfortunately, however, there is currently no evidence to suggest that CBD, by itself, should be used to treat dementia. 

CBD has been studied for pain and anxiety.  However, those studies have largely been done in mice, and have no real meaning for adult humans who have dementia. Even if we used this mouse data, an average-sized man would have to drink roughly six 100mg bottles of CBD oil to experience any effect!  Not only would the daily cost of drinking this much CBD oil be exorbitant, but drinking large amounts of any type of oil will likely lead to severe bowel distress. 

CBD has also been known to interact with certain prescription medications that those with dementia may take regularly. Anyone interested in using THC or any medicine found in cannabis should first always consult with a physician who has experience treating patients with cannabis to ensure they are a good candidate for medical marijuana.

Are Transdermal CBD Patches a Good Alternative to CBD Oil?

Like CBD oil, other products containing cannabidiol like transdermal patches have not shown to be effective in relieving symptoms of dementia like agitation or loss of appetite. Cannabinoids, the medicines from cannabis, won’t go through skin under normal conditions, so most patches don’t work at all.  Eventually real pharmaceutical techniques may be used to make these work, but not yet. 

The ineffectiveness of transdermal CBD patches also has to do with the low doses of CBD found in these patches — quite simply, these patches do not have nearly enough cannabidiol in them to be as effective as THC. Most dispensaries’ CBD patches contain less than 50mg of CBD, meaning that you would have to wear at least twelve patches at once to realize the benefits of the cannabidiol. Again, this is not only an expensive daily regimen, but it’s also downright unnecessary to use such an enormous amount of CBD when a small amount of THC will easily afford you the relief you are looking for. In essence, if a patient is looking to incorporate medical marijuana into their treatment plan they should look for products rich in THC, as it is safer and far more effective than CBD as a therapeutic agent.

Consult A Trained Medical Cannabis Expert For Individualized Care 

Those considering using THC, CBD, or any type of medicine found in marijuana should first consult up with a trained healthcare professional specializing in medical cannabis, and in Massachusetts, you must obtain a medical marijuana card from a qualifying physician in order to enter a registered medical dispensary. As a trained physician and member of faculty at Harvard Medical School, I am passionate about helping patients find relief through cannabis and can determine if you may be a good candidate for medical marijuana. For more information, or to set up a consultation with me or my team at InhaleMD, call (617) 477-8886 today.

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