I recently listened to a webinar where David (Dedi) Meiri spoke about the cannabis research in his lab at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Meiri is best known for his work matching specific components of cannabis to affect different types of cancer. But when the interviewer asked the Israeli researcher which areas of medicine he thought cannabis offered the most promise, the answer was surprising.
On top of what is already known and treated… pain, sleep, epilepsy, anxiety and these kinds of things, I think that one of the things that is still not being treated with cannabis … and I really, really believe in it, and in my lab I have phenomenal results, is dementia and Alzheimer’s.
There is a large and growing body of anecdotal accounts of the efficacy of cannabis for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The shortcomings and actual life-threatening dangers associated with standard and frequently prescribed pharmaceutical treatments for these conditions makes cannabis a particularly compelling option – especially considering its solid safety profile. But the need for research to substantiate these real-life findings is critical, and Meiri’s Technion lab appears poised to deliver the goods.
In a follow up Zoom call, Dedi spoke about his work on this topic:
First of all, cannabis is very useful in improving quality of life: reducing anxiety, improving sleep, reducing violence. We know it from our work with autistic children, from treating PTSD, and other indications. We already know which strains are achieving this effect and a lot of them are high CBD strains, with very low or no THC. Autistic kids in Israel are getting a strain extract with a very low amount of THC and it still reduces violence, really improves sleep and reduces anxiety.
If we’re talking about improving quality of life of the Alzheimer’s patient and their families… people with Alzheimer’s often suffer from bursts of anger and sleep disorders. So on that scale cannabis is very useful…
But Meiri also points out that for Alzheimer’s disease, like with cancer, cannabis may also have a role beyond palliative care. Just as his laboratory looks at the different chemovars and combinations of cannabinoids that can potentially arrest cancer development, they are investigating the neuroprotective functioning of these compounds as well.
With Alzheimer’s, on top of all the palliative treatment on the quality of life, there is a question whether cannabis can also really fight the dementia or improve the memory or the pathology of the disease itself. There are already a few studies that have shown that cannabis in low doses can be effective. It’s known that the endocannabinoid system is involved in this process and in the progression of Alzheimer’s. So, reduction of Anandamide and 2AG and other endocannabinoids is in line with the progression of the disease.
Over the last three years, Meiri has been pursuing this line of research using mouse and other Alzheimer’s disease models.
We screened a lot of cannabis chemovars and defined a few that are reducing the amyloid plaques in the brain. We also identified the mechanisms that are activated in the brain, how this occurs, and why they are reducing the plaques. We have very strong results showing improvement in the pathology of the disease in mice with quite advanced Alzheimer’s after treatment with specific molecules of cannabis. This includes improvements in the damage from the amyloid plaques in the brain and the neurons that were treated with the specific cannabis molecules, as well as improvement in their behavior as evidenced through various tests.
However, there is a large gap between the mice brain and the human brain, so I couldn’t tell you if it will work in human patients…
To overcome that gap, Meiri and his team are now in the process of getting approvals for a clinical trial to test the effects of a full spectrum cannabis extract on patients.
It’s a clinical trial on around 80 patients who suffer from severe Alzheimer’s disease, with violent behavior, anxiety, anger and sleep disorders. We will treat them with cannabis to see if it can improve their behavior, make them calmer, more relaxed and help them sleep better. This is cannabis with a very low amount of THC or without THC at all – a whole extract of a high CBD strain. So it’s not just sedation – you don’t give them THC and get them stoned and they’re just lying on the sofa. It’s not that. It’s other compounds and other effects.
We also spoke about the important nuances between cannabis cultivars, and the necessity of looking beyond just THC and CBD.
We have cultivars that are improving a disease dramatically, and we have cultivars that make the disease worse, even though they have the same amount of CBD and THC. So there are other compounds which are effective or interfere with the treatment in different cultivars. And we see this in every type of disease that we’re working on. It’s true for sleep disorders, multiple sclerosis, in Alzheimer’s and with a cancer. It’s true with psoriasis, and in everything that my lab is doing. We see that there are specific cultivars that are working, not working and ones that make things worse. And you need to know how to choose them.
If that’s the case, then what about all the cannabis medicines that are simply composed of THC and CBD isolates in different ratios?
I guess for certain indications, like pain, for example, it could be enough. But in a lot of the indications, it won’t be enough. I can tell you that if you look at leukemia, what we find is that if you just treat it with CBD you will get zero reaction. The same goes for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and even breast cancer… I have at least six different examples that I already proved that it’s not the THC/CBD ratios, or it’s not enough. I can’t say that about everything, but for sure in these kinds of indications.
So after ruling out just CBD and THC, I asked him, what does he suspect is making the difference?
I am 100% sure it’s not the THC and CBD because I already eliminated them… but I’m still not really sure about the rest. I’m suspecting that the flavonoids might be playing a big role there… Just a few cannabinoids or families of cannabinoids, but mainly probably flavonoids and terpenoids – give me a few more months and then I’ll tell you.