Studies show marijuana helps Alzheimer’s patients sleep better
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Two recent reports regarding Alzheimer's disease may send baby boomers in search of their roach clips, pipes and Mary Jane brownie recipes.
A small study reported in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease investigated the consumption of oil containing a low dose of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Assaf Shelef, M.D., from Abarbanel Mental Health Center and Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University, led the team reporting the improvement in behaviors related to dementia, including improvements in sleep patterns.
Another recent study investigating patients with Alzheimer's disease found that the cells in the eye's retina responsible for the circadian functions influencing sleep are reduced in Alzheimer's disease. The cells are melanopsin retinal ganglion cells. Cannabis, marijuana and other forms of THC impact the retina. THC depresses the production of dopamine, which is in balance and cycle with melanopsin. Decreasing the amount of dopamine in the retina may increase levels of melanopsin.
To identify dysfunctions in the circadian systems related to sleep in Alzheimer's disease, the group used a variety of techniques. The team, led by Chiara La Morgia, M.D., of the IRCCS Institute of Neurological Sciences of Bologna, Bellaria Hospital and the University of Bologna in Italy, looked at the circadian visual systems of 21 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, including neuroimaging of the retina using optical coherence tomography.
A subset of those with Alzheimer's disease had circadian rhythm activity monitored using actigraphy. The researchers also had opportunity to look at the retinas of deceased patients known to have had Alzheimer's disease. Their final assessment was that melanopsin retinal ganglion cell degeneration is a major contributor to the circadian rhythm sleep dysfunctions in Alzheimer's disease.
Given that current treatments for sleep dysfunction in those with Alzheimer's disease are not considered safe for long-term use, patients and family members of those with Alzheimer's disease should consider discussing alternative pharmaceutical treatments with their healthcare providers. While there certainly is a need for more research, treatments using forms of cannabis should be part of this discussion.
Optical coherence tomography imaging of the retina is similar to having a photo taken and has been proposed as a clinical biomarker for Alzheimer's disease. The author has reported on this multiple times as well as the relationship to circadian dysfunction.
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