Medical Cannabis and Seniors
By Michael Patterson
Medical Cannabis Appeared to Improve Neuropsychiatric symptoms in Alzheimer's Patient
A recent study published by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Frontiers of Psychiatry found that the use of a synthetic cannabinoid medicine (dronabinol) decreased Neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPs) in a clinical study of a female patient with severe Alzheimer's Disease (AD).
Alzheimer's Disease affects approximately 17 percent of people in the world from ages 75 to 84. Neuropsychiatric symptoms (NPs) such as delusions, agitation, anxiety, and hallucinations are present in up to 95 percent of patient in all stages of dementia.
Currently, there is no prescription drug that has been approved specifically for the treatment of NPs. The clinical case study involved is from a female patient diagnosed with AD with continuous cognitive decline and dementia-related behavioral symptoms. Between 2008 and 2019, the patient was examined every six months at the memory clinic of the Medical University in Innsbruck, Austria. During each visit, the patient's cognitive state and pharmacological treatment were evaluated via the neuropsychiatric inventory. In 2018, the patient progressed to severe AD stage and presented with progressive NPs.
At this time, off label treatment with low-dose dronabinol (synthetic THC) was initiated. Once low-dose dronabinol use commenced, the patient's emotional state improved, while disruptive behavior, aggression, and sedation decreased significantly. Furthermore, the patient was decreased from six psychotropic drugs to three after starting dronabinol due to no longer requiring the added psychotropic drugs.
The results in this study are consistent with anecdotal results seen in patients using THC or synthetic THC medical cannabis. There is evidence that cannabinoid therapy can break up amyloid plaques in the brain which are caused by AD, and therefore decrease NPs of Alzheimer's.
Since this study only included a single patient, the results must be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, the outcome would appear to point the way toward similar studies with larger populations.
Study Shows No Cognitive Decline in Seniors Using Medical Cannabis
Senior Citizens are the fastest growing demographic of users of medical cannabis in the United States. A recent study published in the September 2020 edition of the Drug and Alcohol Review, determined that the use of medical cannabis does not create a cognitive decline in senior citizens.
The study was performed at Israel's Haifa University School of Public Health by Sharon R. Sznitman PhD; Simon Vulfsons MD; David Meiri PhD; and Galit Weinstein PhD. The study included 125 cannabis users who were 50 years and older. Out of the 125 study participants, 63 had Israeli government permission to use cannabis and 62 did not have permission.
Each participant was put through a multitude of tests consisting of CogState computerized brief battery used to assess cognitive performance of psychomotor reaction, attention, working memory and new learning. Regression models and Bayesian t‐tests examined differences in cognitive performance in the two groups. Furthermore, the associations between medical cannabis use patterns (dosage, cannabinoid concentrations, length and frequency of use and hours since last use) with cognition were assessed among medical cannabis licensed patients.
Patients were tested before use of medical cannabis and after use of medical cannabis. The result of the study showed no detectable difference in cognitive ability before or after use of medical cannabis.
Drs. Sznitman and Weinstein noted that the results of the study do not show any widespread change on cognition in older chronic pain patients. Considering use of medical cannabis is increasing in older populations, this study could be a first step toward a better risk-benefit assessment of the use of medical cannabis with seniors. The researchers also noted that "previous studies have shown that medical cannabis can have long-term effects on the brain when consumed at a young age. Those affects are not necessarily the same when consumed in old age."