ATLANTA — People use CBD for everything from arthritis to insomnia to anxiety. But researchers in Georgia are studying whether it could be a breakthrough treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and give much needed hope to families living with the debilitating disease.
Dan Goerke says his wife Denise “was just very dynamic, outgoing, vivacious person, always looking for an adventure.” The Sandy Springs woman loved hiking and being outdoors before her Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis in October of 2012. “I still remember when the doctor said you have Alzheimer’s disease. My jaw dropped to the floor. We couldn’t believe, especially at her age, 56,” said Goerke.
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He is his wife’s caregiver. He does everything from grocery shopping to making sure she gets her medication at the right time. But he said the toughest part is watching his wife’s personality change as she loses her memory.
“It was just so difficult to see her decline, see her so forgetful, to see her not able to finish chores, tasks,” said Goerke.
More than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There are few effective treatments right now.
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But researchers at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University believe CBD could be a game changer. “I think the potential of this drug to possibly modify disease and help symptoms, a two-edged sword is wonderful,” said Dr. John Morgan. He is a neurologist who treats Alzheimer’s patients and is involved in the CBD study.
CBD is a chemical found in marijuana, but it does not cause a high.
Researchers injected high doses of CBD into the bellies of mice for two weeks and found it helped reduce the accumulation of plaque in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, and improved cognition. “If it does the same thing in humans as it has done in the mice there’s a good chance that it may modify the disease. That’s the Holy Grail,” said Dr. Morgan.
The next step is a clinical trial of 40 to 60 people. Half will get CBD and half will get a placebo. “They created these inhalers which is more functional and more practical,” said Dr. Babak Baban an immunologist at the Dental College of Georgia. He said participants will take two puffs a day for eight weeks. “Two puffs of this is very low, it’s about 10 milligrams. So, we are in a very, very minimal safe dose,” said Dr. Baban.
Researchers will review the participants’ cognitive tests and brain imaging and if all goes well, they will conduct a larger trial with more people.
If it receives Food and Drug Administration approval, in a few years CBD could be used along with other Alzheimer’s medications.
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This CBD research comes too late for Denise Goerke who is now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and in hospice care. But her husband is excited about the prospect of new treatments for others. “There’s hope. There’s hope. For the first time I think in decades, there’s hope,” said Goerke.
The Alzheimer’s Association said it supports legitimate research and is monitoring studies involving cannabis.