Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – along with a host of other neurodegenerative conditions that impact brain health – is nothing short of a public health catastrophe in the United States. According to the CDC, 5.8 million Americans suffer from the condition.
So far, no known cure for AD has been developed. However, multiple therapies – including medicinal CBD use – have been shown to potentially slow the development of the condition and, possibly, to reverse the damage.
Here is everything modern science has to say about the healing potential of CBD for Alzheimer’s disease.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatments
The impairment and ultimate death of neurons (brain cells) and synapses (the connections between brain cells) trigger Alzheimer’s disease.
The initial causes of Alzheimer’s development are still disputed, but what is definitively understood is the role of “amyloid plaques” in the disease process.
One of the primary drivers of Alzheimer’s disease is the unhealthy buildup in the brain tissue of a molecule beta-amyloid protein, or “amyloid” for short.
Source: American Academy of Neurology
In high concentrations (as seen in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains) amyloid proteins form “amyloid plaques” that are toxic to the brain. As a result, they drive unhealthy brain cell death and deteriorate the neural synapses connecting the cells.
The case numbers for Alzheimer’s disease have increased steadily in recent years. Without breakthrough treatments that are more effective than current therapeutics, estimates project that rates of Alzheimer’s diagnoses will continue to rise across time. Up to 14 million Americans may be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2050.
Who Is at Greatest Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease?
The clearest indicator of Alzheimer’s disease risk is age. As the human brain ages, a number of factors compromise brain function and increase the likelihood of AD.
However, age is by no means the only risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Other known contributors to Alzheimer’s development include:
- Family history of Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative conditions
- Head injuries
- Oxidative stress
- Chronic heart conditions
- Ethnicity (African-Americans and Hispanics have a higher risk than other groups)
- Sex (women experience greater rates of AD than men)
- Exposure to heavy metals and toxic chemicals
What Treatments Currently Exist for Alzheimer’s Disease?
The science of effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease is still in its infancy. At this moment in history, Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented or fully reversed, but its progress can be slowed considerably.
The most common therapies and treatment strategies used by neurologists include:
- Pharmacologic treatment. Medications like rivastigmine, donepezil, galantamine, and memantine are commonly prescribed to AD patients. These drugs are intended to boost neurotransmitter activity and, in the case of memantine, block nervous system excitation that is theorized to damage cells.
- Regular exercise. In particular, aerobic exercise (like walking and swimming) are proven to improve symptoms in early Alzheimer’s.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
- Supplementation with essential vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, B-12, folate, etc. when a deficiency is suspected.
- CBD. CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system, which “has been shown to be associated with neurodegenerative diseases and dementia” in hundreds of peer-reviewed studies.” Receptors of the endocannabinoid system, or ECS, are heavily concentrated in the brain – in particular, CB1 receptor sites.
Let’s get into the specifics of how CBD can possibly treat existing cases of Alzheimer’s and even potentially prevent its development in the first place.
CBD as a Potentially Effective Therapy to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
First, we explore the ways that CBD might be able to protect brain health and may stop the development of AD before it becomes a major health issue for at-risk patients. By acting on the endocannabinoid system directly, CBD has the following potential benefits for brain health:
- Neuroprotective (keeps brain cells and synapses healthy and functional, prevents undesirable cell death)
- Anti-oxidative (prevents oxidative damage in the brain due to reactive oxygen species that is a major feature of Alzheimer’s development)
- Anti-inflammatory (CBD prevents unchecked inflammation in the brain. Neuro-inflammation contributes to Alzheimer’s development significantly.)
- Improved blood flow to the brain
CBD is clinically shown to markedly improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, even in relatively advanced cases:
“Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to reverse cognitive deficits of AD and to exert neuroprotective, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties in vitro and in vivo.”
Doctors have long known that CBD boosts – sometimes dramatically – cognitive function and mood in patients who use it. Researchers have recently identified specific ways that CBD interacts with the brain to produce the impressive results that it does.
Clinical studies point to the complex relationship between the endocannabinoid system and the development of Alzheimer’s as an explanation for the potentially therapeutic benefits of CBD in affected patients.
What these researchers have found is that dysregulation of the ECS, as measured through blood sampling of endocannabinoid levels, is an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease as well as other neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
The endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) – and the broader endocannabinoid system – is critical for regulating neurotransmitter release, which in turn plays a central role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease:
“2-AG is an endocannabinoid that activates the cannabinoid CB1 receptor. It is involved in a wide array of (patho)physiological functions, such as emotion, cognition, energy balance, pain sensation and neuroinflammation.”
CBD therapy normalizes endocannabinoid function in AD patients. After treatment, affected individuals who receive CBD therapy may potentially experience the following benefits:
- Less aggression
- Less agitation
- Improved cognitive function
- Better memory
- Boosted mood
Most impressively, when patients undergo imaging tests, researchers find that high-dose CBD prevents the development of amyloid plaques – the telltale sign of Alzheimer’s disease that we discussed previously:
“A two-week course of high doses of CBD helps restore the function of two proteins key to reducing the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, and improves cognition in an experimental model of early onset familial Alzheimer’s.”
The Bottom Line on CBD and Alzheimer’s
Hundreds of peer-reviewed, scientific studies concluded similar, potential benefits of CBD, and have shown positive outcomes for patients and their families with CBD supplementation.
If you or a loved one struggles with Alzheimer’s disease or if you just want to protect your long-term brain health as part of your anti-aging strategy, talk to your doctor about the potential benefits of a high-quality CBD supplement such as Sympleaf’s Berry Gummies or Hemp Extract Oil.