There are lots of big unbelievable claims about cannabis and CBD floating around on the internet. Conservative institutions bent on preserving archaic prohibition laws often claim that cannabis has no medicinal value whatsoever, despite the plethora of scientific studies and mountains of anecdotal evidence to the contrary.
On the other side of the coin, some fervent hemp enthusiasts bill CBD as a miracle drug capable of curing cancer and various other types of untreatable illnesses. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, some unscrupulous CBD companies even went so far as to falsely claim the cannabinoid could cure covid-19 in attempts to boost their sales.
A cursory Google of the words “cannabis” and “dementia” brings up several of these types of claims—one side asserting that cannabinoids could be the future of Alzheimer’s treatment while the other conversely asking, “can cannabis use cause early-onset dementia?” With so many competing narratives to choose from, separating fact from fiction is no simple feat. Today, we’ll take a look at the study at the heart of the cannabis/dementia debate and try to find out the truth about cannabinoids’ effect on Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is The Salk Institute?
Before diving into the research itself, we must first put the study into the correct context. If a study comes from an unaccredited or disreputable research organization, that obviously will have a bearing on how we interpret the results. The same thing goes for potential biases. For example, a lab connected to a CBD manufacturer or an anti-cannabis lobbying group will most certainly have an agenda that needs consideration when interpreting the data.
The most recent advancements on the relationship between cannabinoids and dementia come to us from the Salk Institute in California. The institute was founded in 1960 by Jonas Salk, the man responsible for developing the polio vaccine, and primarily focuses on developing cures or novel therapies for diseases like AIDS, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
For the last 60 years, the Salk Institute has consistently been ranked as one of the best biomedical research facilities in the entire world. The institute currently has produced five Nobel prize winners, and many more have graced the institute, including Elizabeth Blackburn and Roger Guillemin—two Nobel laureates currently on faculty.
With credentials like this, we can safely assume that the studies coming from the Salt Institute are reputable.
Can Cannabis Oil Help Dementia Patients?
Current Alzheimer’s research suggests that a toxic buildup of the protein amyloid beta in the brain is the root cause of the illness. Using lab-grown neurons, the research team at Salk determined that cannabinoids not only may be neuroprotective by reducing cellular inflammation but also could promote the removal of amyloid beta.
According to the lead researcher Professor David Schubert, “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”
This monumental discovery could permanently change the face of future Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Unfortunately, the Salk Institute’s investigation into this kind of cannabinoid therapy has hit serious speedbumps. The next steps for the institute would involve moving from lab-grown neurons onto clinical trials with animal subjects like mice, then eventually to humans.
However, even though medicinal marijuana is legal in over half the country, the DEA still lists cannabis as a Schedule I substance—drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
As a result, it’s incredibly difficult for facilities that receive federal funding, like the Salk Institute, to conduct studies into the cannabis plant legally.
The Verdict: Is Cannabis Use Good For Dementia?
Right now, it’s still up in the air whether or not cannabis will turn out to be the key to curing dementia and Alzheimer’s. While the Salt Institute’s preliminary research looks incredibly promising, they have stressed that these are only pre-clinical results. In order to accurately determine if cannabis could be an effective therapy for dementia, substantially more clinical trials will need to take place. For that to happen, the federal government will have to step out of the way of science.