Cannabis potential in treating dementia blocked by bureaucracy

Posted on March 15th, 2018 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

THCSeniors are the fastest growing group of medicinal cannabis users in the country, and a growing number of nursing homes from coast to coast are tolerating use of tinctures and extracts to combat dementia, insomnia and related ailments. Patient testimony is now backed up by research, with scientists identifying the mechanism by which cannabinoids slow the deterioration of neurons in the brain. But federal strictures continue to pose an obstacle to investigation—leaving medicinal users in the cold under US law.

Recent news reports across the United States have noted that senior care centers are grappling with whether to allow patients to use cannabis medications on premises. Some have opted for tolerance, under controlled conditions, while others have remained intransigent, citing potential loss of federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.

Few media accounts, however, have noted ground-breaking research in Calfornia that appears to substantiate the claims of aging patients that cannabis can be effective against dementia.

One notable exception was a November report by San Francisco's KPIX on the growing number of aging medical users in the Bay Area. It provided fascinating details on a preliminary study just issued by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. The Institute's Dr. David Schubert led a lab team that grew nerve cells taken from a human brain, to study factors that influence levels of a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer's disease. The protein, known as amyloid beta, builds up within neurons, inflaming and eventually killing them. His team exposed the neurons to cannabis—finding that it cleared away the protein, reduced inflammation, and allowed the brain cells to survive.

While the findings won precious little media attention, the medical profession began to take note. "It's a very important discovery," Dr. Michael Weiner, who conducts Alzheimer's research at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, told KPIX.

The KPIX account profiled some Bay Area seniors who report dramatic improvement—mostly under administration of extracts containing the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD. Lucy Hanson, 92, called the preparation her "happy pill." Four years ago, she was psychologically withdrawing, frequently falling, and becoming incoherent; she was diagnosed with advanced dementia. Under CBD treatment, she has regained mental clarity and re-connected with her family. "It feels as if I've been given back a life," she said.

Eloise Theisen, a geriatric nurse-practitioner with Green Health Consultants who oversees cannabis treatments for several patients around the Bay Area, weaned Hanson off pharmaceuticals she had been taking in favor of the orally administered CBD concentrate. "I think Lucy's had one of the most dramatic responses with cannabis," she said.

Also quoted was Basil Shaaban, who said he saw an "overnight miracle" after his mother Tagrid began using CBD to treat her early-onset Alzheimer's. After bad experiences with anti-psychotic drugs intended to calm her, the family decided to try a CBD preparation. Basil said his mother's personality returned, and her agitation and insomnia evaporated.

The technical illegality of these treatments under federal law has slowed research, making for something of a Catch-22. Because of federal prohibition, government bodies like the National Institutes of Health won't fund the research needed to prove that cannabinoids are effective medicine, and that the prohibition should therefore be lifted. "It's slowed it down a tremendous amount," Schubert said of federal policy's impact on his investigations.

But the users are undeterred.  "Don't you dare take it away from me," Lucy Hanson laughed to KPIX. Her daughter Tania Hanson added: "She'd be dead if we had waited for it to be carefully studied."

An earlier KPIX report, in 2015, noted the foundation of the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Education and Support Club, at the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek. About a hundred members are using tincture to treat insomnia and other aging-related ailments. When KPIX attended its monthly meeting, the guest speaker was then-San Francisco mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss, who works in the medical marijuana industry.  "We just have to move past the stigma and not 'just say no' with a N-O but just say ‘know’ with a K-N-O-W," Weiss said.

As Cannabis Now reported last year, the Rossmoor club is still going strong—despite the rigid position of Contra Costa country, which bans dispensaries and personal cultivation.

Caregivers to the elderly are on the spot, caught between the desires of patients and families on one hand and federal law on the other. Cannabis Now last month reported on Joy Seligman, 94, a Parkinson's sufferer, who lives ar the Aviva assisted-living campus in Sarasota. On the Florida state registry of medical marijuana patients, Seligman was nonetheless not allowed to use by Aviva administrators. The company actually issued a "new policy" that explicitly banned medical marijuana after being petitioned to allow on-site use by Seligman's family.

Others are lightening up. Cannabis Now also reported last month that the Hebrew Home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx is now permitting on-site cannabis use. While the staff will not actually administer cannabis, residents may now purchase it under New York state's official medical marijuana program, keep it in locked boxes in their rooms, and use it to self-medicate.

A December 2016 report in the journal Addication on demographic trends in cannabis use found that the fastest growing group of users in the United States are those aged over 50. It stated: "The prevalence of past-year cannabis use among adults aged ≥ 50 increased significantly from 2006/07 to 2012/13, with a 57.8 percent relative increase for adults aged 50-64...and a 250 percent relative increase for those aged ≥ 65.” We can assume that a certain number of these aging users are actually self-medicating—even if they do not explicitly recognize this.

The absurd contradiction of federal policy is well illustrated by the fact that in 2003, the US Department of Health and Human Services secured a patent—number 6630507—for the use of cannabinoids as antoxidants and neuroprotectants, with potential efficacy against cancer and degenerative diseases. Yet just three years later, a US Food and Drug Administration memorandum paradoxically reiterated the official position that cannabis has "no medical value."

With patients and caregivers leading the way, there is more pressure each day for the federal government to get out of the way and reconcile its dogma with human needs—and science.
Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Image of THC molecule via Schaffer Library of Drug Policy


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