Should Alzheimer's patients be given medical marijuana

Should Alzheimer's patients be given medical marijuana


Minnesota joins the fray by legalizing medical marihuana to be used by people with Alzheimer’s.

Some states have already adopted this new legalization, and even more are in the process of allowing the use of marihuana by people that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Some researchers, however, state that this is not without its risks, even though there is evidence that people in certain circumstances could have some benefits.

While they are not denying the current evidence, they are saying that there isn’t enough of it at the moment.

Minnesota officials announced last week that they are adding Alzheimer’s disease to their list of conditions that people should meet if they want to buy medical marihuana. It states that if a resident is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they are legally allowed to buy medical marihuana from a licensed manufacturer in this state, starting August 1.

Alzheimer’s is the 14th already approved conditions for purchasing medical marihuana, and some other conditions include irritable bowel disease and intractable pain, HIV, and certain cancers.

According to the cannabis website Leafy, Minnesota joins 13 other states that have allowed medical marihuana use for people with Alzheimer’s, and last Tuesday Pennsylvania – a state that is not on this list, went ahead with a new way to speed up the process of adding new conditions to its medical marihuana legal list.

Does it really help?

The increasing use and availability of marihuana for Alzheimer’s patients are riddled with uncertainties regarding the effects on the symptoms and the QOL for people that have been diagnosed with this disease. 

While some researchers acknowledge the benefits in certain cases, they do warn people to use it with caution because there are many risks involved that are still unknown. 

When announcing the addition of Alzheimer’s to the legally approved list, Jan Malcolm, a Minnesota health commissioner stated as much by saying, “Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence.”

She did point out that there is evidence that medical marihuana can improve the patients’ mood, sleep disorders, and overall behavior. According to the United Kingdom’s Alzheimer’s Society, “symptoms such as agitation and aggression could, in theory, be counteracted by the effects of cannabis or its components.

They further added: “However, scientific reviews have found that the trials and studies so far have generally been small or of low quality (check here and here  for references), making it difficult to come to an informed conclusion.”

The Alzheimer’s Association in the United States said that “its potential effectiveness and safety profile has not been thoroughly evaluated in clinical trials in people with (or at risk for) Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association believes that more research in this area is needed.”

Not knowing is making it hard to come to decisions

The research into medical marihuana effectiveness at people with Alzheimer’s seems to pique the interest of researchers, and their data is helping states to decide to allow its use for Alzheimer’s symptoms, and some cases require a prior doctor’s approval.

 Gary Wenk, a behavioral neuroscience professor at The Ohio State University, has studied the effects that marihuana has on Alzheimer’s patients, and had this to say: “I cannot imagine that it would be harmful at all, other than being a little freaky, as long as it’s used safely.”

He further added that “when high, they’d be more likely to get up and move around, but it could also increase their appetite, which could help. And a lot of older people have a lot of aches and pains — one thing marijuana is clearly good for is inflammation and pain.”

When asked if he would recommend marihuana to people affected by Alzheimer’s he stated that there are lots of questions involved, which is further complicated by the reality that under federal law, marihuana us an illegal drug and as such, its effects can’t be tested on humans.

He further added: “But what we know for certain is that it is not a treatment for Alzheimer’s. I wouldn’t recommend giving it at all.” Serving on Ohio’s Governor’s Medical Marihuana Advisory Committee, he was getting a lot of emails from spouses and children of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, saying that they have come across information that marihuana could have beneficial effects on their close ones.

Wenk supports the idea that marihuana can help people with Alzheimer’s, and he stated this opinion in an article he published in 2016 in Psychology Today. He also stated that there is epidemiological evidence that people who smoked marihuana in the 60s are not being diagnosed with dementia as often as those that didn’t. 

There are, however, some problems with that. Specifically, the marihuana strains that we smoke today are different from the ones in the 60s.

Wrapping up

Minnesota joined the other 13 states that have allowed people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to have access to medical marihuana. Health researchers, however, while not refuting the evidence, still point out that the research on this issue needs to be expanded, as the evidence of the beneficial effects is still limited in scope.

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Sholem Berkowitz
Sholem Berkowitz

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