Scientists have been studying the impacts of THC, a chemical in marijuana, on Alzheimer’s symptoms; now, a new mouse study looks at marijuana’s other key component: CBD. Could this chemical alleviate Alzheimer’s symptoms? Researchers are hopeful.
People are always looking for an accessible, prescription-free aid for pain, insomnia, anxiety and other day-to-day irritations. In recent years, CBD has emerged as a hopeful cure-all. Cannabidiol found in marijuana, more commonly known as CBD, has become a craze in recent years, with U.S. sales of CBD supplements increasing year-over-year by 57 percent in 2018.
Countless influencers, including Kim Kardashian, have pushed CBD to their following. However, some neurologists are skeptical of the social media traction CBD products have gained, even calling CBD vendors “snake oil salesmen,” taking advantage of people who may confuse relief from CBD oils, rubs, creams, gummies, and other products with the “placebo effect.” However, in a study released this year by the National Library of Medicine, researchers say CBD does have real potential — this time as a therapy to help curb cognitive decline and alleviate some Alzheimer’s symptoms through changing the chemistry in the brain.
Interleukin 33 (IL-33) is a protein in the brain that, at high levels, has been linked to beta-amyloid buildup, a biomarker of Alzheimer’s. The TREM-2 protein, encoded by the TREM-2 gene, is also linked to the neurodegenerative disease.
According to the study authors, both of these proteins were affected by CBD in a way that helped brain cell communication.
The study used a mice model to investigate CBD’s impact on the brain, in which mice with Alzheimer’s would choose between items they recognize and items that are newly introduced.
Dr. Hesam Khodadadi, the study’s first author, said in a press release that people who are living with Alzheimer’s often suffer from stiffness or an impeded gait. Mice in their lab with the disease, Khodadadi says, “run in an endless tight circle,” but with CBD treatment, this behavior stopped.
Researchers gave high doses of CBD through injection into the mice’s stomachs every other day for two weeks. As a result, they found that CBD normalized levels of IL-33, defending new findings that the protein can be regulatory to the immune response depending on the environment, lessening inflammation and restoring the immune system to homeostasis, according to Dr. Babak Baban, an immunologist and associate dean for research in the Dental College of Georgia as well as a corresponding author of the study.
The study also found that CBD improved the poignancy of TREM-2, as low levels of it are connected to Alzheimer’s but after the CBD treatment, levels of IL-33 escalated sevenfold and TREM-2 by tenfold in the mice model.
CBD is a chemical in marijuana, a substance only fully legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but its role in medicine continues to grow. Currently, it drives an industry valued at nearly 25 billion and is expected to grow by nearly 15 percent within the decade. Researchers have looked into the benefits and pitfalls as a means to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Scientists at the University Medical Center in Goettingen, Germany, found that the other key component in marijuana aside from CBD — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC — improved the aptitude of genetically engineered mice who mirror symptoms of Alzheimer’s on different memory tests. The mice received a synthetic form of THC for six weeks, and when tested on their memory, their success was easily comparable to the mice without Alzheimer’s. These mice also lacked the loss of neurons and had a 20 percent decrease in their atypical beta-amyloid plaques.
Researcher Yvonne Bouter from the University Medical Center told NPR that cannabis does have potential to help curb symptoms of Alzheimer’s. However, the studies were conducted in mice and not in people. “We did this same experiment in healthy mice and they had problems learning,” Bouter said.
The main difference between THC’s psychoactive effects on marijuana users is that the CBD in marijuana reflects the relaxed and fatigued response, while THC is responsible for the altering of one’s brain connections for a fixed amount of time.
Scientists from the newest study will continue to research CBD’s assistance in Alzheimer’s symptoms, but their next stage will help determine optimal doses, if using CBD in the early stages of cognitive decline could slow it’s progression, and if delivering the CBD using an inhaler would assist in delivering the chemical directly to the brain.