Minnesota becomes the latest state to allow medical marijuana for people with Alzheimer’s.
Some states are going ahead with plans to allow the use of marijuana by people with Alzheimer’s.
Health researchers say that might be risky — despite evidence there could be some benefits to certain people in some circumstances.
The problem with that evidence, they say, is that there just isn’t enough of it.
Last week, officials in Minnesota announced they would add Alzheimer’s disease to the list of conditions for which people can purchase medical marijuana.
If a resident has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they would be allowed under state law to purchase medical marijuana from a licensed manufacturer starting August 1.
Alzheimer’s would join 13 other approved conditions, ranging from irritable bowel disease and intractable pain, to HIV and some cancers.
At least 13 other states already allow people with Alzheimer’s to use medical marijuana, according to the cannabis website Leafly.
Pennsylvania, one state that doesn’t allow it, approved a new way to speed up the addition of new conditions to its medical marijuana list last Tuesday.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive neurological disease of the brain that leads to the irreversible loss of neurons. As a degenerative brain disease, Alzheimer’s slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.
It’s also the most common cause of dementia among older people. Dementia is a group of brain disorders characterized by impaired intellectual, social and cognitive abilities. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and accounts for an estimated 50-70% of all dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans. By 2010, Alzheimer’s had become the sixth leading cause of death in America. It is now the fifth leading cause of death in people 65 years and older.
Alzheimer’s disease typically begins with mild or subtle symptoms that worsen over time. Generally, symptoms begin after the age of 60. It’s almost exclusively a disease that affects older people. Based on recent research, many experts believe the changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s actually start more than 20 years before the initial symptoms start.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and there is no proven treatment to slow its progression. However, doctors commonly prescribe several medicines that may help improve the mental function of people with Alzheimer’s disease, such as donepezil and tacrine.
New research shows that medical cannabis for Alzheimer’s disease may prevent the formation of deposits in the brain associated with the degenerative disease. They have also found that marijuana is one of the most effective medications for Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease History
Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered Alzheimer’s disease in 1906. He first noted and reported specific neurodegenerative symptoms in his patient, Auguste D. She was exhibiting psychological changes such as paranoia, intellectual decline and memory loss. During her autopsy, Dr. Alzheimer noticed that the nerve cells in her brain had shrunk. However, without advanced microscopes, doctors wouldn’t be able to examine this condition further.
As biomedical technology advanced, doctors were able to better study these types of neurological abnormalities. Electron microscopes, invented in 1931, allowed doctors to magnify brain cells and see the damage in greater detail. By the late 1960’s researchers had established cognitive measurement scales, which helped determine how badly neurodegenerative symptoms had advanced.
As researchers continued to gather more information on Alzheimer’s symptoms, more and more national and international funding was invested into disease research. In 1974, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) was established to advance and support Alzheimer’s research. Today, there is an international effort underway to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.
Alzheimer’s Disease Causes
Alzheimer’s symptoms are caused by shrinking parts of the brain that lead to neurological structural changes. The exact reason why this shrinking begins is still unknown. Researchers feel that rather than one major cause, there are instead several contributing genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. This is especially likely given the prevalence of the disease. Researchers have identified specific risk factors that make a person more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some of the possible contributing risk factors that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease in certain people:
- Genetics: Genetics is a known contributing factor to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. If you have a family member who has early-onset dementia, you may be more likely to develop it. For late-onset dementia, researchers have isolated a specific gene, known as apolipoprotein E (ApoE), that is linked to developing this condition. However, the form of ApoE that causes an increased risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s is rare.
- Environment: There are possible environmental factors that may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. These include a history of traumatic brain injuries and having a lower level of education that prevented mental development. Infections or exposure to toxins and metals have not been proven to have an impact on increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Age: Age is the biggest risk factor that increases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s cases double every five years following the age of 65. In the United States, over 12% of people age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s, and 45% of people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s disease.