Cannabis and Dementia Symptoms: Healer Webinar Examines Relevant Research

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This month’s Healer webinar discussed several studies on cannabis and symptoms of dementia and cognitive decline.

On June 12th, 2024, Dustin Sulak, DO, founder of Healer, hosted a two-hour webinar on six research studies on cannabis used to treat symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia related conditions. Healer webinars, Dr. Sulak explained, are meant to summarize results and provide commentary on relevant scientific publications on cannabis used for medicinal purposes. He noted that June is Alzheimer’s awareness month and also the theme of this month’s webinar.

The first study examined in the webinar was, “Cannabidiol for behavior symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease (CANbsS-AD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” published in International Psychogeriatrics in 2024. One point made in the study was that there are currently no safe and effective approved medications for the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Dr. Sulak discussed this study’s results and adverse effects, concluding that “this is a preliminary demonstration of safety and tolerability; the acceptability adheres to treatment and signals of potential effect across a range of unmet treatment targets, like apathy, anxiety, agitation and hallucination. So, very promising results. It supports the case for larger studies to evaluate the efficacy of CBD for behavioral symptoms in people with Alzheimer's.”


Next, Dr. Sulak discussed, “Cannabinoid extract in microdoses ameliorates mnemonic and nonmnemonic Alzheimer’s disease symptoms: a case report,” published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports in 2022. The case study summarized the symptoms of a 75-year-old man before and after starting a THC and CBD extract. Dr. Sulak noted that though there were improvements in quality of life and no adverse effects in this case, there was no control group for this study.

The third study, “Association Between Cannabis Use and Subjective Cognitive Decline: Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS),” was published in 2023 in Current Alzheimer Research. As Dr. Sulak explained, previous research has associated cannabis use with impaired reaction, concentration, and memory. This study concluded that the reason for cannabis use, rather than the frequency and method, is associated with subjective cognitive decline.

The next study presented was, “Medical Cannabis for Patients Over Age 50: A Multi-site, Prospective Study of Patterns of Use and Health Outcomes,” which was published in Cannabis in 2024. Dr. Sulak explained the study methods, formulas, changes to pain, mobility, daily activities, and changes to prescription drug use. Dr. Sulak commented on the chart comparing drug use at baseline, month three and month six: “It's interesting that cannabis can substitute all of these things and that is likely because it's interfacing with the endocannabinoid system, which is a master regulator of our physiology, and really can do all the things that all these other drugs can do.”

Lastly, “Medical Cannabis Is Not Associated with a Decrease in Activities of Daily Living in Older Adults,” was presented. This study, published in Biomedicines in 2023, was a prospective observational study of patients in a geriatric clinic who were using cannabis for chronic pain and other indications. The authors concluded, Dr. Sulak noted, that “medical cannabis can improve functional status and mood in older adults, it is perceived to improve the general condition and the pain, and it reduces the use of other medications, including opioids.”

The second half of the webinar was open to questions and comments from attendees. Topics discussed included the effect of cannabis on sleep, updates to the 2024 Farm Bill, cannabis as a Schedule III substance, and uses for other conditions such as neuropathic pain, “chemo” brain,” and diabetes.