Does Marijuana Cause or Help Dementia?
Dementia is a term that’s less specific than Alzheimer’s because rather than referring to a specific disease or condition, it actually refers to different symptoms that characterize cognitive decline. When someone has dementia, it’s underlying brain diseases and disorders, and dementia itself is somewhat of a blanket term.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about marijuana and dementia. People wonder does marijuana cause or help dementia, and it’s a bit of a complex subject.
Below is more information about dementia, and also more specifically marijuana and dementia.
Unlike normal cognitive decline that is part of aging, dementia has more significant symptoms that affect the daily life of the person suffering from it.
Dementia is caused by the death of brain cells as well as neurodegenerative disease, which refers to progression in brain cell death over time. Dementia can also be caused by traumatic brain injuries, vascular dementia which occurs when brain cells are deprived of oxygen, HIV infection, and certain prion diseases. It may also be caused by reversible factors in some cases, such as nutritional and vitamin deficiencies or depression.
There are many different types of dementia, and currently, there’s no known cure for certain types including degenerative dementia because the death of brain cells isn’t reversible. In cases where there is no treatment, the focus is on dealing with the symptoms of dementia. In some cases such as with vitamin deficiency or injury, it is possible to work on reversing dementia.
So what about marijuana and dementia? Does marijuana cause or help dementia? What should people know about potential relationships between marijuana and dementia?
There is some evidence showing that long-term use of marijuana may reduce blood flow to the brain, which could cause problems in the function of the hippocampus and that could ultimately leave people at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, which is a type of dementia. The hippocampus plays a primary role in memory as well as the development of Alzheimer’s, so the level at which marijuana use can affect this part of the brain is important to understand.
A study that was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that marijuana users, when compared to non-marijuana users, had low blood flow in the hippocampus and this is the part of the brain responsible for storing long-term memory. The belief is that chronic marijuana use may block activity in this part of the brain and it may damage areas of the brain that are pivotal to learning and memory.
It’s not just long-term marijuana use that may impact blood flow to the brain. Other lifestyle factors can play a role as well, such as exercise and smoking.
While the thought of marijuana and dementia risk in long-term users can be troubling, there are seemingly paradoxical findings regarding the effects of marijuana and dementia once someone already has the condition.
The endocannabinoid system in the brain may provide a link between a positive relationship with marijuana and dementia. Certain research has shown that low doses of the cannabis component THC can restore memory and learning levels in mice. The changes that resulted from administering low doses of THC occurred because they affected the hippocampus, but right now there’s not research that studies this possible link between marijuana and dementia in humans.
More specifically, a recent study also shows that cannabis may be helpful to treat vascular dementia, which is a neurodegenerative disorder that often occurs along with Alzheimer’s. Vascular dementia is characterized by a lack of adequate blood flow to the brain, and it leads to the death of cells. By activating the CB2 cannabinoid receptors, it may be possible to recover blood flow to the brain.
Despite the promising research coming out about marijuana and dementia, there’s still a lot more to be done, and there need to be human trials that look at how cannabis affects the underlying causes of dementia.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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