Study Finds Cannabis May Not Help Treat Dementia


One of the great things about working in the cannabis industry is that you often get to wake up to headlines about some new medical use for cannabis. It is especially satisfying when you are able to throw that positive science back into the face of someone fighting to keep cannabis illegal.

However, if we are to mature as an industry, then we will have to face the hard truth that medical cannabis is not the panacea for every medical condition.

According to a study conducted by Dr. Marcel Olde Rikkert at the Radboud University Medical Center, medical cannabis may not help alleviate common behavioral symptoms that affect those afflicted with dementia. Earlier studies in mice had found that cannabis may be helpful in treating the disease, but this new study found little to no benefit.

Researchers took 50 dementia patients, gave half of them pills containing 1.5 mg of THC and the other half placebo pills on a daily basis for three weeks. The researchers observed the patients during this time and graded their levels of agitation, aggression and propensity to wander.

At the end of the study, Rikkert and his team noted a slight improvement among both groups, suggesting that cannabis is not an effective treatment for dementia.

According to Rikkert, “The improvement in the placebo group was remarkable, as dementia is a progressive disease.” He also noted, “The improvement might have been caused by the fact that the patients received a lot of support during the study, or to the placebo effect.”

Researchers did note that the THC pills were well tolerated, and since the dosage was well below what a regular cannabis user would consume, additional studies with higher concentrations of THC are needed.

One thing missed by Rikkert and his team is the cumulative effect of using the whole cannabis plant. Aside from THC and CBD, there is a whole slew of different chemicals in cannabis interacting and working together.

Known as the entourage effect, different chemical profiles of different cannabis strains can interact in unique ways that we have yet to completely understand. Using only THC in clinical studies could potentially skew the therapeutic possibilities of medical cannabis.

Regardless of whether or not researchers went far enough in studying the relationship between cannabis and dementia, the cannabis industry has just gotten a subtle reminder that cannabis is not a panacea.

Maybe down the road, when more research is done, we will find a positive effect between cannabis use and staving off dementia, but for now that is not the case and that’s ok. There are plenty of other studies out there confirming that cannabis is a beneficial option for treating seizures, chronic pain and PTSD, meriting cannabis as medicine. 

By moving forward on the basis of science, the industry will not only improve the public trust but also keep itself grounded in reality, which is something that prohibitionists have a hard time accomplishing.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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