Medical marijuana is becoming a common treatment for various ailments and conditions, from attention deficit disorder to cancer. Well, prior research had suggested that this remedy would also aid those dealing with behavioral changes from having dementia. Turns out, that belief may be a hoax.
Noting the differences
Researchers from the Netherlands decided to put this theory to the test in a small-scale study and found the medication to be ineffective on patients. The study included 50 people with dementia. Half lived in assisted living homes and the rest lived at home. They asked half of the participants to take the marijuana pill, which contains THC, the main ingredient in marijuana. The other half of the group was asked to take a placebo. The older adults took the pill three times a day for three weeks. Neither group knew what they were taking. The findings revealed that patients' behavior, including aggression, anxiety and wandering, did not change depending on what they ingested. The study's results were published in the journal Neurology.
However, not all is lost. The findings did show that all participants handled the medication well and did not experience any adverse side effects. The results indicate that if participants had a higher dose of these pills, they may deal with positive changes in behavior. The study authors suspect the dose amount was too low given the lack of any apparent side effects among the group of older adults.
As the aging population in America grows, the number of people experiencing some form of dementia, most commonly Alzheimer's disease, is increasing. Every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops this illness. Approximately 1 in 3 Americans ends up with some form of dementia by the end of their life, according to the Alzheimer's Association. In 2015, dementia and Alzheimer's care will cost the nation $226 billion. Aside from its high cost and mortality rate, Alzheimer's and dementia also comes with detrimental behavioral changes. People may deal with delusions, aggression, anxiety, pacing and wandering, paranoia, depression, hoarding and sleep issues. Naturally, this can be concerning to families and loved ones who watch these changes become part of the person's personality.
Sadly, there is no cure for these kinds of behavior or for dementia itself. As a result, scientists are working hard to try to find a loophole that may help diminish these difficult side effects. People may take anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication to try and curb their symptoms, but it definitely isn't a cure all, the researchers noted.
"Right now, there are no medications specifically approved for these types of symptoms," said Norman Relkin, Ph.D., a spokesperson for the American Federation for Aging Research. "The medications we use are all 'borrowed' from the armamentarium for other conditions that are similar to these dementia symptoms."
A glimmer of hope
However, it may be unhealthy for people to continuously take these medications if they don't need them. Relkin noted that while the study did not prove marijuana had effects on people, it doesn't mean there isn't hope for medical marijuana. Relkin suggested that THC, a main ingredient in the drug, may have a positive effect on older adults dealing with dementia. Past research has revealed that the chemical, which is naturally found on the leaves of the plant, may help protect brain cells from being damaged by the condition and showed that it may subdue sleep disturbances.
This research suggests that further studies involving THC and dementia need to be performed. The Netherlands researchers plan to continue their work by using a larger group of people with dementia that takes a greater amount of the marijuana medication.