CBD and Alzheimer’s Disease

One of the most cited items that CBD can address behind epilepsy is Alzheimer’s Disease.  How is it that CBD could relate to that disease?

What is CBD?

As a quick review, Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound that comes from the hemp plant family.  Unlike its cousin, THC, it is safe, non-addictive, and legal in most states. CBD has become a very popular item for people to take to help with a variety of ailments.

There actually is quite a list of items that CBD is purported to help with: Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), Parkinson’s Disease, Frontotemporal Dementia and Huntington’s Disease.  Research is currently ongoing at many reputable institutions including the National Institute of Health and the National Institute for Aging.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are 10 Early Symptoms of Alzheimer’s:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations
  6. New problems with words when speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased and poor judgement
  9. Withdrawal from work and social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

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Let’s discuss Alzheimer’s Disease.  It is the most common cause of dementia. This is a general term for memory loss and other cognitive disabilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Sixty to eighty percent of dementia is actually Alzheimer’s Disease.  The biggest risk factor is age, but over 200,000 people have early onset Alzheimer’s, and it appears this rate may be increasing. The concerning reality is that as the baby boomer wave ages, there is expected to be a tripling in Alzheimer’s Disease in the next 50 years.  This is a progressive disease and worsens with time. At the moment, there is no cure. All current treatment is geared to slow progression.

The most common early symptom is not remembering newly learned information.  That’s because the disease targets the part of the brain that affects learning. Unfortunately, as the disease progresses it impacts more and more of the brain’s functions. Disorientation, mood and behavior changes begin to occur with more frequency.  Then, there is a deepening confusion about events, and suspicion of friends, family, and caregivers starts. Finally, there’s difficulty speaking and swallowing.

When studied via autopsy, people with Alzheimer’s have plaques (holes) throughout their brain tissue.  It is this severe brain destruction which causes the many symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Recent studies have shown that CBD can reduce or remove the impact of oxygen build-up and other inflammation-related impacts. In addition, it has been shown that CBD, through its interaction with CB2 receptors in the brain, actually promotes growth and development of brain cells.  Consider that for a moment – the disease kills brain cells and destroys the brain’s physical structure, but CBD builds it up.

What do studies show regarding CDB and Alzheimer’s?

In a study conducted on transgenic mice with Alzheimer’s, long-term treatment with CBD was shown to prevent development of social recognition memory deficits. This study, published in 2014, stated that Alzheimer’s Disease typically has a wide variety of brain issues: Impairments in cognitive ability and widespread pathophysiological changes caused by neurotoxicity, neuroinflammation, oxidative damage, and altered cholesterol homeostasis. Other studies have shown that CBD can reverse some of these problems by impacting inflammation and oxidative repairs.  This study considered whether long-term exposure to CBD would actually prevent the damage. They found that social recognition deficit which normally developed in the mice was prevented through long-term treatment.

Alzheimer's DiseaseIn an older study from 2004, CBD was shown to have a neuroprotective effect on cells. In Alzheimer’s, there is a type of damage that occurs called beta-amyloid-induced toxicity.  Research has shown that exposure to a protein called beta-amyloid causes brain cells to become toxic and die.  This was shown to be caused by oxidation, increased enzyme destruction, DNA fragmentation and increased cellular calcium.  In this study, they pretreated cells with CBD and then exposed them to beta-amyloid. The results showed that cellular survival was drastically increased, and it was due to reversal or prevention of the same damage noted without pretreatment.  In other words, treatment with CBD helped prevent or stop damage that is typically seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients. It must be kept in mind that this study was on rat brain cells in culture dishes, not in rats or humans. So, there is a leap to live human brains.

In 2007, a study showed that when live mice were injected with a brain damaging peptide (like study above, but with live mice brains) and then treated with CBD damage was significantly less than those injected with just a placebo. In fact, the protection was “dose dependent” meaning that it related to the amount of CBD given, so that it most likely was a result of the CBD and nothing else.

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