Cannabidiol, commonly abbreviated as CBD, is a pretty unique little molecule. In fact, we know it successfully treats some forms of epilepsy. Currently, only one brand, Epidiolex, is FDA approved to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.
Several studies in rodents and humans have shown CBD has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. These effects may not always be consciously detected unless injury or disease has caused the inflammation. But brain inflammatory processes are frequently ongoing, and they accumulate as we age. They can be triggered, for instance, by injury, alcohol consumption, or disease processes (1).
Consistently low levels of brain inflammation are harmful and trigger a variety of long-term health problems. Dampening brain inflammation is, therefore, an important strategy to reduce the risk of age-related brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In turn, this establishes a theoretical framework for CBD’s prevention of AD of which there’s emerging supportive pre-clinical data.
Alzheimer’s Effects on the Human Brain
Alzheimer’s Disease affects 30 million people worldwide. Because of extended lifespans, it’s projected that over 120 million people will suffer from AD by 2050 (2).
Memory loss and confusion encompass the initial stages of the disease, but eventually, AD patients lose the ability to perform rudimentary tasks such as walking or swallowing. The associated health complications make Alzheimer’s Disease the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Risk factors coded in your DNA affect the likelihood that you may develop the disease. But in the vast majority of cases, genetic risk only becomes problematic when combined with certain environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heavy alcohol use, and even brain injury can increase the likelihood you may one day develop Alzheimer’s Disease.
All of these factors have one thing in common—they all increase brain inflammation.
In walks CBD.
What Is the Science Behind CBD’s Benefits?
Scientists can study Alzheimer’s Disease in the laboratory by altering the DNA of mice so that they develop the core brain and behavioral features of AD. In these mice, CBD was discovered to be most effective at minimizing symptoms if given early in the disease process. This is consistent with CBD’s anti-inflammatory benefits and bolsters its potential as a preventative strategy that can be implemented with little adverse consequence.
Inflammation has been shown to increase the negative impact of Alzheimer’s disease. The inflammatory response happens when the brain’s immune cells fail to clear disorienting blockages. The inflammation that is a core cause of Alzheimer’s symptoms can often be reduced by using CBD oil (3).
The Future of CBD Treatments
While CBD holds promise as a preventative treatment in rodent models of Alzheimer’s Disease, we’re still a long way from establishing CBD’s benefits in humans. One of the biggest challenges we’ll face without controlled clinical trials is in establishing optimal dosing.
So for the time being, CBD’s benefits in Alzheimer’s Disease may be confined to helping combat its symptoms in some patients. Nevertheless, all of this points to a promising future for CBD as scientists learn to harness its anti-inflammatory properties for conditions that go beyond a splitting headache.
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