New research looks at potential of CBD as a therapy to alleviate Alzheimer’s symptoms

The statistics on Alzheimer’s are sobering. The Alzheimer’s Association reports”[1]

  • More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and by 2050, the number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million.
  • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
  • Between 2000 and 2019, deaths from heart disease have decreased 7.3 percent, while deaths from Alzheimer’s have increased 145 percent.
  • In 2021, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the U.S. $355 billion. By 2050, these costs could climb as high as $1.1 trillion.

In response to this devasting disease, there has been a host of research to alleviate the effects of Alzheimer’s and potentially prevent it, and to this end many of them have showed promise. For example, recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, August 2020), reports on a new blood test that could potentially predict Alzheimer’s, even in patients with no symptoms, which would enable clinicians to begin proper treatment and earlier treatment to potentially stop or reverse – even possibly prevent – damage caused by the disease.[2]

Also, research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2020 suggests that flu (influenza) and pneumonia vaccination after age 60, as well as lower early-life Body Mass Index (BMI), among other health factors, are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.[3]

Now comes new research[4] that finds CBD reduces plaque and improves cognition in an experimental animal model of familial Alzheimer’s. Familial disease is an inherited version of Alzheimer's in which symptoms typically surface in the 30s and 40s and occurs in about 10-15% of patients.  A two-week course of high doses of CBD helped restore the function of two proteins that are key to reducing the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins TREM2 and IL-33 are important in the ability of the brain’s immune cells to consume dead cells and other debris, like the beta-amyloid plaque that piles up in patients’ brains. Levels of both of these proteins are decreased in Alzheimer’s.

CBD appears to normalize levels of IL-33, where it helps sound the alarm that there is an invader like the beta-amyloid accumulation. There is emerging evidence of its role as a regulatory protein as well, whose function of either turning up or down the immune response depends on the environment. In Alzheimer's, that includes turning down inflammation and trying to restore balance to the immune system. That up and down expression in health and disease could make IL-33 both a good biomarker and treatment target for disease, the researchers reported.

TREM2 is found on the cell surface where it combines with another protein to transmit signals that activate cells, including immune cells. Its expression is on the microglial cells, a special population of immune cells found only in the brain, which are key to eliminating invaders like a virus and irrevocably damaged neurons.

Researchers found that CBD treatment increased levels of IL-33 and TREM2 -- sevenfold and tenfold respectively. CBD also reduced levels of the immune protein IL-6, which is associated with high inflammation levels found in Alzheimer’s.

CBD was given in the late stages for the published study, and now the investigators are using it at the first signs of cognitive decline. Next steps also will include determining optimal doses.

Although these findings are promising, they are not conclusive as an officially recognized treatment for Alzheimer’s.

 

[1] “Facts and Figures,” Alzheimer’s Association, Accessed April 10, 2021, https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures
[2] Larkin, Lisa, “New Research in Alzheimer’s Shows Promising Advances,” Ms. Medicine, August 28, 2020. https://msmedicine.com/new-research-in-alzheimers-shows-promising-advances/
[3] “Highlights from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference,” Press Release Alzheimer’s Association, July 30, 2020. https://alz.org/aaic/releases_2020/overview-release.asp
[4] “CBD reduces plaque, improves cognition in model of familial Alzheimer’s, News Release, Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, March 9, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/mcog-crp030821.php