Some amount of cognitive decline is a part of the normal aging process. More than 43 million Americans are currently over the age of 65, and the US Census Bureau predicts the senior population will rise to more than 83 million by 2050. While the rate of dementia in the American population has declined over the last decade, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the growth of the senior population over the next several years adds up to as many as 16 million seniors fighting some form of dementia in the relatively near future.
Cannabis in the Treatment of Cognitive Decline
Groundbreaking studies in the role of the endocannabinoid system and the neuroprotective capabilities of cannabinoid supplementation offer good news to those hoping to prevent a debilitating cognitive decline in their twilight years.
The National Institute on Aging says forgetfulness is a normal part of the aging process. Taking longer to learn new things, misplacing everyday items, and difficulty remembering are not uncommon behaviors for most aging adults. While frustrating, these behaviors are not cause for concern. However, in some older adults, simple problems like these may be an indicator of something far more sinister, such as early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Recent studies in cannabis and cannabinoid supplementation are showing encouraging results in repairing cognitive damage in the brain at the cellular level, as well as protecting otherwise healthy neurons, possibly slowing the effects of age on the human brain. Unfortunately, the stereotypical image of the average marijuana smoker has society believing that cannabis, in any amount, leads to memory impairment, mental slowness, and even loss of brain cells. However, recent research proves this simply isn’t the case. THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, has shown incredible potential as a neuroprotectant and even in repairing damaged brain cells in older adults.
The Alzheimer’s Association lists a heart-healthy diet, cardiovascular health, and exercise as essential in the prevention of dementia in the aging brain. Maintaining a healthy heart, and therefore a healthy brain, may be related to the endocannabinoid system. The term “runner’s high” is associated with the release of adrenaline while exercising. Research has shown that this may be linked to the release of anandamide, an endocannabinoid produced by the human body which closely resembles THC and produces a similar effect. If our bodies release cannabinoids during exercise, and cannabinoids are shown to have neuroprotective effects, certainly regular exercise could contribute to enhanced production of our own natural cannabinoids, improving our healing abilities.
Studies confirm that the use of CBD, or Cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis can lengthen the effects of anandamide. CBD, a competitive inhibitor, slows down the breakdown of other cannabinoids, thus allowing anandamide to linger within the body longer.
Marijuana legalization has called cannabis research to the attention of emerging medical science in cognitive disorders and many other ailments. Promising stories are emerging from all over the world, confirming the medical benefits of cannabis and the science community is on a mission to fully realize the potential. Prevention of the onset of cognitive decline could significantly reduce the number of seniors suffering from debilitating brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. As more studies are conducted, cannabinoids may just be the key to aging gracefully.