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July 3, 2024 0 Comments

Medical Marijuana and Neurodegenerative Disorders

There are a number of studies focused on medical marijuana and its effects on neurodegenerative disorders that have produced promising results. Neurodegenerative disorders can include Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, among others.

What are Neurodegenerative Disorders?

Neurodegenerative disorders (NDs) involve the gradual damage and destruction of nerve cells in the nervous system, especially the brain. Researchers estimate that neurodegenerative diseases affect more than 50 million people globally, and numbers are expected to increase dramatically into the future as the population ages.

What are the Different Types?

There are several types of NDs. All are noted as incurable although some treatments help slow the progress of the diseases and treat associated symptoms.

Dementia-type diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) involve progressive damage to different parts of the brain, which causes neurons to die. This neuronal death can then cause a wide range of symptoms that vary depending on which areas of the brain are affected. Common symptoms of AD include confusion, memory loss, trouble thinking or concentrating, and behavior changes.

Demyelinating Diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) involve the damage or loss of myelin, the protective sheath surrounding the axons and dendrites of neurons, which causes problems with the sending and relaying of nerve signals. Common symptoms of MS include tingling or numbness, pain, muscle spasms, weakness and paralysis, coordination issues, and fatigue.

Parkinsonism-type diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) involve damage to neurons in the brain that help manage coordination and precise control of muscle movements. Common symptoms of PD include slowed movements, shaking and tremors, balance problems, shuffling steps, and hunched posture.

Motor Neuron Diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, involve the death of neurons that control movement. Symptoms include loss of muscle control.

What Causes Neurodegenerative Diseases

Age: As you get older the chance of developing an ND increases.

Genes: Many NDs are tied to genetics, that is, mutations that cause NDs are heritable which means they are not always genetic.

Environment: Such factors as exposure to noxious chemicals or pollutants, or certain infections may increase the risk of developing an ND.

Medical History: Certain health events may cause or exacerbate the development of NDs.

Lifestyle: Diet, exercise, and alcohol or tobacco use may all be associated with the development of NDs.

The Role of Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress (OS) may play a crucial role in neurodegenerative disease. Brain activity creates highly reactive chemical by-products called reactive oxygen species (ROS). In healthy brains, there are sufficient supplies of antioxidant enzymes to counteract the production of ROS. However, when there is not enough antioxidant activity in the brain to counter the amount of ROS being produced, it causes OS, which eventually leads to cell death. And since neurons (nerve cells that send messages all over your body to allow you to do everything from breathing to talking, eating, walking, and thinking) do not regenerate, neuronal death leads to neurodegeneration.

In addition to causing cell death, OS also activates a cascade of microglial activity (microglia are immune system cells in the brain), leading to inflammation. In turn, the inflammation increases the progression of OS, creating a “feed-forward loop” involving chronic oxidative stress and persistent neuroinflammation.

How Can Medical Marijuana Help with Neurodegenerative Disease?

Restrictions on research due to the DEA’s narcotics scheduling caused much of the research to be focused on Cannabidiol (CBD) which is legal under the Federal Farm Bill.  However, now that marijuana is officially rescheduled and defined as having medicinal properties, research should expand into other cannabinoids. For now, CBD can help with neurodegenerative disease in the following ways:

  • CBD may induce anti-inflammatory effects.
  • CBD decreases the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
  • CBD exerts strong antioxidant effects.
  • CBD dampens immune system activity.
  • CBD promotes neuroprotection.
  • CBD prevents mitochondrial dysfunction by decreasing both production of ROS and iron accumulation, which then reduces neurodegeneration.
  • CBD inhibits fatty-acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), the enzyme that breaks down endocannabinoids—notably anandamide (AEA). This then promotes endocannabinoid activity that mediates neuroinflammation and dysfunction.

Studies on Cannabis and Neurodegenerative Disease

On June 12th, 2024, Dustin Sulak, DO, founder of Healer, hosted a two-hour webinar on several research studies on cannabis that were used to treat symptoms associated with neurodegenerative and dementia-related conditions.

The first study titled, “Cannabidiol for behavior symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease (CANbsS-AD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” was published in International Psychogeriatrics in 2024. One point made in the study was that there are currently no safe and effective approved medications for the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Dr. Sulak discussed this study’s results and adverse effects, concluding that “this is a preliminary demonstration of safety and tolerability; the acceptability adheres to treatment and signals of potential effect across a range of unmet treatment targets, like apathy, anxiety, agitation, and hallucination. So, very promising results. It supports the case for larger studies to evaluate the efficacy of CBD for behavioral symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s.”

Next, Dr. Sulak discussed, “Cannabinoid extract in microdoses ameliorates mnemonic and nonmnemonic Alzheimer’s disease symptoms: a case report,” published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports in 2022. The case study summarized the symptoms of a 75-year-old man before and after starting a THC and CBD extract. Dr. Sulak noted that though there were improvements in quality of life and no adverse effects in this case, there was no control group for this study.

The third study, “Association Between Cannabis Use and Subjective Cognitive Decline: Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS),” was published in 2023 in Current Alzheimer Research. As Dr. Sulak explained, previous research has associated cannabis use with impaired reaction, concentration, and memory. This study concluded that the reason for cannabis use, the chronic condition rather than the use of medical marijuana, was actually the root of their cognitive decline.

The next study presented was, “Medical Cannabis for Patients Over Age 50: A Multi-site, Prospective Study of Patterns of Use and Health Outcomes,” which was published in Cannabis in 2024. Dr. Sulak explained the study methods, formulas, changes to pain, mobility, daily activities, and changes to prescription drug use. Dr. Sulak commented on the chart comparing drug use at baseline, month three, and month six: “It’s interesting that cannabis can substitute all of these things and that is likely because it’s interfacing with the endocannabinoid system, which is a master regulator of our physiology, and really can do all the things that all these other drugs can do.”

Lastly, “Medical Cannabis Is Not Associated with a Decrease in Activities of Daily Living in Older Adults,” was presented. This study, published in Biomedicines in 2023, was a prospective observational study of patients in a geriatric clinic who were using cannabis for chronic pain and other indications. The authors concluded, Dr. Sulak noted, that “medical cannabis can improve functional status and mood in older adults, it is perceived to improve the general condition and the pain, and it reduces the use of other medications, including opioids.”


While marijuana research is ongoing, current research shows promise in the use of medical marijuana for the  treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. If you would like more information, please contact The Healing Clinics to get started on your healing journey.