- A recent study shows that synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient in cannabis, can alleviate agitation in advanced Alzheimer’s disease patients, surpassing current medication.
- Agitation is a common problem in late stage Alzheimer’s patients. Current medication is not very effective and is connected to higher mortality rates.
- Despite potential benefits, synthetic THC has a side effect of sedation, experienced by a significant proportion of the study’s participants.
- The researchers involved in the study strongly advise against using medical marijuana to alleviate agitation in Alzheimer’s patients. Their study examined only a synthetic analogue of THC, not the complete marijuana plant.
- A larger study with a broader range of patients is necessary to understand the full impact of synthetic THC on Alzheimer’s patients and the sedation effects noticed, providing greater insight into this potential treatment.
A recent compact yet compelling study suggests that the active component in cannabis that induces pleasure and relaxation could alleviate agitation in advanced Alzheimer’s disease patients.
Research conducted in Canada divulged that a kind of synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) significantly reduced agitation in a handful of patients with Alzheimer’s, surpassing the efficiency of current medication in use.
Breakthrough in Clinical Trial
“This constitutes the inaugural clinical trial to validate that a cannabinoid can alleviate agitation,” says Krista Lanctot, the principal researcher and distinguished scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center situated in Toronto.
However, an unavoidable consequence of this drug is sedation, which was endured by a substantial number of study participants, pointed out Keith Fargo, head of scientific programs and outreach at a notable association related to Alzheimer’s.
Need for Greater Understanding
“Given the potential of this drug, a larger study with an expanded cohort of patients would allow a broader examination of its effectiveness and the implications of the sedation outcome,” states Fargo.
Challenges in managing agitation in Alzheimer’s
Agitation often manifests in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, making it a challenge for physicians to handle, typically resulting in the off-label application of antipsychotics and anticonvulsants. Agitated individuals exhibit behaviors such as yelling, screaming, pacing, and wandering. In more severe cases, they can become physically aggressive, potentially causing harm to themselves or others.
Lanctot says, “Alarming as it is, one can anticipate agitation in one out of every five outpatients. However, in long-term care facilities, approximately half of the inpatients will exhibit agitation. It presents a formidable obstratum as the medications currently available are insufficiently effective and linked with an incremental mortality rate.”
Leveraging benefits of cannabinoids
Lanctot and her team speculated that cannabinoids may alleviate agitation, given their decreasing presence in the brain during the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. Cannabinoids possess calming effects and can boost appetite, aiding weight loss. They can also play a role in pain management.
The synthetic THC drug under investigation, nabilone, has received approval in Canada for countering nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and it’s typically administered in capsule form.
A Promising Trial
During the course of the trial, 39 participants with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease received nabilone to manage clinically significant agitation over six weeks, followed by an inactive placebo for another six weeks.
Lanctot notes, “We perceived a significant decrease in agitation, more substantial than that observed with current medications.” The trial also reported improved behavioural symptoms, minor cognitive and nutrition enhancements, and lowered caregiver stress levels.
However, this was accompanied by some drawbacks. Approximately 45% of patients experienced sedation with nabilone compared to the 16% noted for the placebo.
A Note of Caution
Despite the promising results, Lanctot and Fargo do not recommend using medical marijuana to alleviate agitation in Alzheimer’s patients.
“This trial examined a synthetic analogue of THC. It’s not THC, and definitely not the complete marijuana plant,” Fargo adds, noting the lack of comprehensive data on the effectiveness and safety of marijuana in Alzheimer’s patients.
Exploring further therapeutic potential
A synthetic form of THC, known as dronabinol and marketed as Marinol, is available in the US. Marinol is currently being tested for its potential efficacy in treating Alzheimer’s symptoms. People interested in participating in trials can reach out to one of the well-known clinical trial centres, for example, Johns Hopkins.
“However, we shouldn’t rush to alter clinical practices based solely on one study,” Lactot duly noted.
For more information about the connection between cannabis and Alzheimer’s disease, visit here.