Nabilone, a synthetic form of cannabis, is showing promise in a study that focuses on Alzheimer’s patients. Agitation is a significant problem in patients with Alzheimer’s, and researchers have been struggling to find a way to manage it that does not require physical restraints or the use of heavy and potentially dangerous antipsychotic medications.
The synthetic cannabis may provide an option other than the standard sedatives, anti-anxiety medications, and antipsychotic drugs that nursing homes and hospitals are looking to reduce the use of.
The medication is currently indicated for nausea caused by chemotherapy. It is also used to treat pain in Canada.
During the trial, nearly 40 dementia patients were given Nabilone for six weeks and then a placebo for an additional six weeks. Agitation was significantly reduced on the medication but not on the placebo. Nabilone also helped with other behavioral symptoms.
In a recent statement, a lead researcher, Krista Lanctôt of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center and the University of Toronto, spoke about what the study could potentially mean for Alzheimer’s patients:
“Currently prescribed treatments for agitation in Alzheimer's do not work in everybody, and when they do work the effect is small, and they increase the risk of harmful side effects, including increased risk of death. As a result, there is an urgent need for safer medication options. These findings suggest that nabilone may be an effective treatment for agitation; however, the risk of sedation must be carefully monitored. A larger clinical trial would allow us to confirm our findings regarding how effective and safe nabilone is in the treatment of agitation for Alzheimer's. As a result, there is an urgent need for safer medication options.”
That said the drug did increase drowsiness in nearly half of patients, possibly due to the high concentration of synthetic THC, the active chemical in cannabis. Because of this, there are still safety concerns when it comes to giving patients the drug. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends against providing patients with marijuana because the dose cannot be controlled as accurately as it can in medication such as Nabilone. Further research will need to be done to make sure the medicine is safe, but if it is the results are promising t may offer an alternative to antipsychotic medications.
We can Help! Our local advisors can help your family make a confident decision about senior living.