As the number of states legalizing medical marijuana/cannabis are increasing across the United States, many families and caregivers of individuals with cognitive decline are beginning to ask if the herbal supplement may be a good option for their loved one. With the availability of safe, legal cannabis, an increasing number of individuals are finding that treating dementia with cannabis may be a viable option.
A brief history of medical cannabis use
Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for well over 5000 years, and it was not until 1941, in response to articles that have since been proven false published in the late 20’s, that it was removed from the US pharmacopia. In recent years, many western countries have begun limited medical marijuana allowances, with a strongly positive response from patients and indications that the drug is primarily being used among patients to successfully treat the various physical and mental challenges it was prescribed to address.
What symptoms medical marijuana may alleviate
Use of certain strains of medical cannabis has been demonstrated anecdotally and scientifically to alleviate various symptoms of aging, including symptoms prominent for a loved one with sundowners. It is effective in treating insomnia, and calming down anxiety. It also has strong effects of calming down problematic behaviors, including panic driven flight responses or violence. Marijuana also has a potent pain relieving effect, and if your loved one is nearing the end of their lives may be a gentle way to help them stay calm and comfortable in their final weeks or months.
Will it harm my loved ones memory?
Given the long association with marijuana and memory problems, it is natural that someone who is already helping a loved one through cognitive decline would be worried about potential side effects that may worsen the condition. While it’s true that cannabis may induce some short-term memory loss (namely, an individual may not be able to clearly remember things moment to moment while the marijuana is active in their system), it has only demonstrated long term memory loss effects with chronic use over several years, or use early in brain development. Promising studies have also demonstrated that THC, the active compound in marijuana, may in fact delay the formation of brain clogging Alzheimers plaque better than pharmaceuticals currently available on the market.
How to find safe, legal medical marijuana
First, find out whether or not your state has medical marijuana laws in effect. If your state does support medical marijuana, your public health department or basic internet searching should help you find the process for gaining access to dispensaries, which varies state to state. You may need to see one or several doctors to confirm a diagnoses for the prescription. These specialists will also help determine which strain or hybrid is best for your loved ones specific situation, as different types of marijuana are bred to amplify different therapeutic effects. Once you have the prescription, you will go to a dispensary, where pharmacy grade, medically regulated marijuana is sold. There will be a variety of options to choose from, including herbs for smoking, oils, resins, different kinds of smoking apparatus, and edible goods such as candies, cookies, or butter. You may need to experiment a little bit to find out what works best for your loved one: smoked cannabis tends to act faster and stronger, whereas ingested tends to last longer and take a while to set in. Depending on what symptoms it is being used to treat, and your loved ones feelings about the various options, it may take some experimentation before you find what works for you.
Treating dementia with cannabis – your story.
An increasing number of families of individuals experiencing cognitive decline are coming forward and sharing their stories on the Internet, for other caregivers to gain hope and advice from. In one inspirational story from Skunk Pharm Research LLC, introduction of medical marijuana to a mother who had become increasingly violent and aggressive as her Alzheimers worsened brought a woman comfort and peace in her last years of life, and reunited a family. You can read their moving story here. We would like to extend an invitation to you, our readers, to share your own stories, if you have one to share. By collecting stories and hosting them on our site (with your permission, and anonymously if requested), you can help educate and inspire families like your own. If you have a story concerning the use of medical cannabis in the treatment of sundowner syndrome or dementia, please share it with our readers below.
Updates March 2017
California’s Senior Medical Cannabis Market is definitely leading the way in the US. Here is a chart from the team of David Downs and John Blanchard at The Chronicle. For more great information on the topic of cannabis use and the aging see the Green State: Seniors’ guide to Cannabis.