What Are Neurodegenerative Diseases?
Neurodegenerative diseases are those which result mainly from dysfunction of the central nervous system (the CNS, made up of the brain and spinal cord) as a result of damage to neurons, the primary cells of this system that communicate with each other to send signals throughout the brain and body. Damage to neurons of the CNS can result in a decreased ability to send signals to the peripheral, autonomic, and enteric nervous systems, which make it possible for us to move, touch, digest, breathe, react to and sense our environment, and in general, to live.
When cells of the central nervous system are destroyed and/or not able to communicate with each other efficiently and effectively, symptoms such as cognition and memory impairment, muscle incoordination, weakness, spasticity [i.e. tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes], paralysis [i.e. an inability to move], rigidity [i.e. tight muscles], and more can occur. These symptoms can cause substantial decreases in quality of life for patients, and even death when involving reduction in function of important physiological processes like breathing and heart function. Neurodegenerative disorders are so debilitating partially because neurons are one of the few cell types with a very limited ability to regenerate (along with heart cells and skeletal muscle cells). In most cases, once neurons have been destroyed, they cannot grow back.
“If left unchecked 30 years from now, more than 12 million Americans will suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.” – Harvard Neurodiscovery Center
Examples of neurodegenerative diseases include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease’), spinal muscular atrophy, prion disease, and others. While multiple sclerosis (MS) has been thought to stem primarily from an autoimmune response (one in which the body starts attacking itself), there is mounting evidence that it is a disease caused by a mixture of an autoimmune and primary neurodegeneration process.
A significant amount of research on cannabis has been conducted on the plant’s potential harms in relation to brain function. However, the evidence suggests that not only are long-term, clinically significant cognitive deficits unlikely if use begins in adulthood, especially in the absence of chronic and excessive use, but cannabinoid medicine may actually prove effective in halting or reversing debilitating neurodegenerative disorders. Note: Cognitive declines as a result of use have generally been conducted using recreational users who self-report frequency of use and smoke marijuana of unknown potency and quality; studying marijuana use with alternative delivery methods (e.g. vaporization, ingestion) and controlled frequency of use with whole-plant cannabis of known ratio/concentration/potency in an adult patient population may yield vastly different results than those discovered to date which have indicated harm.full_spectrum_tincture
According to an article published by the Harvard Neurodiscovery Center, “If left unchecked 30 years from now, more than 12 million Americans will suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.” It is therefore imperative that the medical and scientific communities continue to extensively research any and all potentially successful therapies for these disease processes.
Cannabinoid Therapy for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Extensive research on the impact of endocannabinoid system modulation and its effects on neurodegenerative disorders has occurred in the past several years. In 2014, British Journal of Pharmacology published a review titled “The influence of cannabinoids on generic traits of neurodegeneration”, in which the authors concluded the following:
“Signalling from the CB1 and CB2 [i.e. cannabinoid] receptors are known to be involved in the regulation of Ca2+ [calcium] homeostasis [i.e. the mechanism by which systems are kept balanced], mitochondrial function [i.e. function of components of cells that produce energy], trophic [i.e. growth] support and inflammatory status… while other receptors gated [i.e. modulated/controlled] by cannabinoids… are gaining interest in their anti-inflammatory properties. Through multiple lines of evidence, this evolutionarily conserved neural signalling system has shown neuroprotective capabilities and is therefore a potential target for neurodegenerative disorders.” While the current article briefly touches on the evidence that exists for the potential of cannabinoid therapy as treatment for neurodegenerative disorders, the BJP article will provide a more extensive overview.
“[Elevation of cannabinoid receptor activity either by pharmacological blockade of the degradation of cannabinoids or by receptor agonists could be a promising strategy for slowing down the progression of brain ageing and for alleviating the symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders.” — Dr. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo
Another review published in 2012 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (source of the graphic below) discusses that cannabis may exert neuroprotective effects through mitochondrial regulation, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant (i.e. agents that prevent free radical damage) properties, and clearance of damaged cells and molecules in the brain. The author also noted that signaling of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) may decrease as people age, and therefore decreased function of the ECS may be a partial cause for age-related cognitive decline. According to the author, Dr. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, “[Elevation of cannabinoid receptor activity either by pharmacological blockade of the degradation of cannabinoids [i.e. keeping cannabinoids active and in the brain for a longer amount of time] or by receptor agonists [i.e. receptor activation] could be a promising strategy for slowing down the progression of brain ageing and for alleviating the symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders.”
Additionally, a study published in July 2014 in the Journal of Neuroscience Research found more evidence to support the potential of cannabinoids to act as anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agents, showing that ultralow (non-psychoactive) doses of THC were protective against “neuroinflammation-induced cognitive damage” (this study and was reviewed previously on Medical Jane).
In the image below, ROS stands for “reactive oxygen species”, which are created as intermediate products in natural physiological processes, but can cause damage to cells and tissues. “Synapses” are the junction between two neurons where signals are passed/communicated, and “organelles” are components of cells that have specific functions (e.g. mitochondria are organelles).
Given the highly favorable safety profile of whole-plant cannabis, and the severely debilitating symptoms caused by certain neurodegenerative diseases which could potentially be alleviated by its use, whole-plant cannabis medicine may be a safe and useful additional therapy for patients with certain neurodegenerative diseases who are finding it difficult to control their symptoms with standard therapy. Increased research on cannabinoid medicine and modulation of the endocannabinoid system in relation to neurodegeneration has the potential to lead to novel therapies which may help to prevent progression, and potentially initiation, of these diseases.
For information on how you can advocate, expectations, and safety in considering whole-plant medical cannabis use, click here.
Please click the following links to access Medical Jane articles reviewing the evidence for the potential of cannabinoid medicine in treatment of the following neurodegenerative diseases: ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. For an overview of the potential of cannabinoid medicine in managing multiple sclerosis, please see Medical Jane’s previous coverage of this topic here.
I’m a retired Cardiac ICU RN. I was a cardiac nurse for over 30 years. I’m on Facebook where I have several teaching groups. I learned a lot of information about marijuana especially the fact that it can kill cancer cells. As a nurse I was shocked after I finally realized it was true and that marijuana can treat cancer and a lot of other diseases like Lupus, Arthritis, Diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or just about any Chronic Disease. I doubt a day goes by while on FB that somebody’s telling their story of how they got off all their Prescription drugs while using this wonderful Herb. I did a lot of research on Marijuana after seeing video etc. an old nurse friend sent me a video of her healing a decubitus ulcer on her diabetics patient’s shoulder using cannabis oil and I was stunned because all of us nurses know it’s extremely difficult to heal these sores, she healed this one in less that three weeks and I was blown away. We also discussed the fact that we also have receptors in our bodies for marijuana which mean it can put our bodies back into homeostasis. It’s like …. if our blood pressure is high cannabis “marijuana” will bring it back down to around normal, the same thing with high blood sugar in people with diabetes, it stops pain, treats depression. The worse part of this whole story is, it seems our government has known about the benefits of this plant for over 40 years, it was made illegal in the 1940’s for somewhat ridiculous reasons, although to control the masses does come to mind although before that time it had been used by doctors and everyday people to treat themselves for thousands of years. There are several documented video’s to prove the real story about this plant on U-tube. I started this Website because I want everyone to know of the benefits of Cannabis “marijuana”. Every time I think of all the people I have seen die of cancer especially children and now to find out we’ve had a cure or would have definitely HAD a cure by now but for whatever reason our Government didn’t release that information, instead marijuana was put on the Highest of the Schedule 1 National Drug List, to make sure no one could get to it even the doctors and scientist. The Govt. seldom granted permission to a scientist to study marijuana unless they were looking for the ill effects of the plant, and of course set Health Care back 50 years at least. Wondering what word to use as to what this whole thing is all about? GREED and Control comes to mind.
Cannabinoids: potential anticancer agents
Cannabinoids — the active components of Cannabis sativa and their derivatives — exert palliative effects in cancer patients by preventing nausea, vomiting and pain and by stimulating appetite. In addition, these compounds have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumour cells in culture and animal models by modulating key cell-signalling pathways. Cannabinoids are usually well tolerated, and do not produce the generalized toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies. So, could cannabinoids be used to develop new anticancer therapies?
Ocumetics Bionic Lens could give you vision 3x better than 20/20
Clinical trials still needed before device can be approved
By Camille Bains, The Canadian Press Posted: May 18, 2015 3:03 PM ET Last Updated: May 19, 2015 10:12 AM ET
Imagine being able to see three times better than 20/20 vision without wearing glasses or contacts — even at age 100 or more — with the help of bionic lenses implanted in your eyes.
Dr. Garth Webb, an optometrist in British Columbia who invented the Ocumetics Bionic Lens, says patients would have perfect vision and that driving glasses, progressive lenses and contact lenses would become a dim memory as the eye-care industry is transformed.
Webb says people who have the specialized lenses surgically inserted would never get cataracts because their natural lenses, which decay over time, would have been replaced.
Perfect eyesight would result “no matter how crummy your eyes are,” Webb says, adding the Bionic Lens would be an option for someone who depends on corrective lenses and is over about age 25, when the eye structures are fully developed.
“This is vision enhancement that the world has never seen before,” he says, showing a Bionic Lens, which looks like a tiny button.
“If you can just barely see the clock at 10 feet, when you get the Bionic Lens you can see the clock at 30 feet away,” says Webb, demonstrating how a custom-made lens that folded like a taco in a saline-filled syringe would be placed in an eye, where it would unravel itself within 10 seconds.
He says the painless procedure, identical to cataract surgery, would take about eight minutes and a patient’s sight would be immediately corrected.
Webb, who is the CEO of Ocumetics Technology Corp., has spent the last eight years and about $3 million researching and developing the Bionic Lens, getting international patents and securing a biomedical manufacturing facility in Delta, B.C.
His mission is fuelled by the “obsession” he’s had to free himself and others from corrective lenses since he was in Grade 2, when he was saddled with glasses.
“My heroes were cowboys, and cowboys just did not wear glasses,” Webb says.
“At age 45 I had to struggle with reading glasses, which like most people, I found was a great insult. To this day I curse my progressive glasses. I also wear contact lenses, which I also curse just about every day.”
Webb’s efforts culminated in his recent presentation of the lens to 14 top ophthalmologists in San Diego the day before an annual gathering of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.
Dr. Vincent DeLuise, an ophthalmologist who teaches at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, says he arranged several meetings on April 17, when experts in various fields learned about the lens.
He says the surgeons, from Canada, the United States, Australia and the Dominican Republic, were impressed with what they heard and some will be involved in clinical trials for Webb’s “very clever” invention.
“There’s a lot of excitement about the Bionic Lens from very experienced surgeons who perhaps had some cynicism about this because they’ve seen things not work in the past. They think that this might actually work and they’re eager enough that they all wish to be on the medical advisory board to help him on his journey,” DeLuise says.
“I think this device is going to bring us closer to the holy grail of excellent vision at all ranges — distant, intermediate and near.”
Clinical trials on animals, blind humans
Pending clinical trials on animals and then blind human eyes, the Bionic Lens could be available in Canada and elsewhere in about two years, depending on regulatory processes in various countries, Webb says.
As for laser surgery, which requires the burning away of healthy corneal tissue and includes potential problems with glare, the need for night-time driving glasses and later cataracts, Webb says the Bionic Lens may make that option obsolete.
Alongside his Bionic Lens venture, Webb has set up a foundation called the Celebration of Sight, which would donate money to organizations providing eye surgery in developing countries to improve people’s quality of life.
“Perfect eyesight should be a human right,” he says.
DeLuise, who has been asked to manage the foundation, says funds would also be funnelled to some of the world’s best eye research institutes.
“He has the technology that may make all of this happen,” he says, adding several companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to develop a similar lens, though none have come close.
|Written by William Kay, M.D.|
Many of the effects that hormones have on the body have been elucidated, but hundreds of new effects (good and bad) are being discovered all the time. The hormones that our bodies make are tightly controlled by a myriad of complex feedback loops, metabolism, elimination, carrier proteins, etc. The bottom line is that such complexity should instill tremendous respect in any person deciding to take hormones and any clinician deciding to suggest their usage. Since the results of the Women’s Health Initiative was published and clearly demonstrated the risks of over dosing menopausal women on pharmaceutical hormones, there has been an increased marketing push to find a substitute. The buzz word for the substitute is “bio-identical” hormones.
Bio-identical hormones are synthesized from natural starting material like the Mexican yam and soybeans. The starting compounds in these plants are sterols called diosgenin and stigmasterol. That is where the “natural” part ends. These compounds are then run through chemical reactions in a lab to synthesis hormones such as progesterone, estrogens, and testosterone. What is vital to understand is that the final products of these synthetic processes are hormones that are not chemically identical to the hormones our bodies make. These synthesized hormones that are being marketed as bio-identical have different ratios of carbon-13/carbon-12 than human hormones and they also have a mixture of stereoisomers whose activity within our body is difficult to predict.
Taking hormones should only be considered when a clear deficiency has been discovered that is not correctable by less invasive measures. Are there reasons to consider hormonal therapy? Yes. Are “bio-identical” hormones without risk? No. Many of our hormone imbalances are a result of stress, poor diet, physical inactivity, environmental toxins, and etcetera. If you are seeing a clinician that jumps at fixing your hormones by starting with hormone therapy, you should be suspicious. If they tell you it’s safe — they are “bio-identical”, then you will know that they have been fooled by the new marketing ploys and have not done their research.
Cannabis has been used to treat topical wounds such as cuts and burns for millennia. Now, modern research is investigating the science behind cannabis’ ability to treat topical injuries, and is discovering exactly how vast a role the endocannabinoid system plays in the maintenance of healthy skin and wound healing.
Cannabis and wound healing in history
The historical medical texts of various different cultures mention the use of cannabis in topical preparations to treat cuts, scrapes and burns. Egyptian papyri note the use of topical antiseptic preparations thought to be made from cannabis mixed with fat; Greek writers from the 1st century BCE record the use of cannabis to treat horses suffering from wounds and sores, as well as to treat nosebleed in humans.
The medieval French herbalist Ruellius recorded in his 1536 treatise De Natura Stirpium that cannabis extract could be used to treat wounds and ulcers; a few decades later, the renowned German botanist Tabernaemontanus recommended a mixture of butter and cannabis leaves to be applied to burns.
In 1649, the eminent British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper recorded that cannabis could be used to treat burns and bleeding, due to its antiseptic properties. In 1751, British herbalist Thomas Short wrote in his Medicina Britannica that a preparation of cannabis could be used to treat burns, wounds, insect bites and ulcers.
Modern research into wound healing & cannabis
In the modern era, researchers have investigated the ability of cannabis and cannabis preparations to reduce pain, swelling and bleeding associated with cuts and burns, and to aid in the repair of epidermal tissue.
Research conducted thus far has provided ample evidence that cannabis has a strong analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effect. Indeed, it appears that the endocannabinoid system is fundamentally involved with the process of healing itself, and has a vital role to play in the formation of scar tissue.
Wound healing & the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system plays a major role throughout the entire process of wound healing. Immediately after an injury occurs, levels of anandamide in the affected tissues rise, and provide an analgesic effect by acting on the CB₁-receptors present in the peripheral nerves.
A 2010 study conducted at the University of California found that if a synthetic compound known as URB937 was administered to rats and mice with peripheral injuries, levels of anandamide increased and the analgesic effect became stronger. URB937 exerts this effect by inhibiting the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme, which is responsible for the degradation of anandamide.
Another 2010 study conducted at the China Medical University found that in mice inflicted with skin incisions, the number of cells expressing CB₁-receptors increased at the injury site. The increase in CB₁-expressing cells began six hours after injury occurred, peaked at five days post-injury, and reduced to baseline levels by fourteen days post-injury.
At first, the majority of new CB₁-expressing cells at the injury site were monocular cells (such as red blood cells and specialized immune cells known as oocytes) that are known to mediate inflammation and the immune response; after several days, fibroblast cells (which are vital to wound healing and scar formation) began to dominate. While it is not clear exactly what mechanisms are at work, it is evident that anandamide and the CB₁-receptors are involved in the process.
Cannabis & wound healing in the internal organs
As well as wounds affecting the epidermis and cutaneous tissue, the endocannabinoid system has a role to play in the healing of injuries to the internal organs, particularly to the epithelium (the smooth layer of cells lining the surface of organs and other bodily structures).
In the human colon, the epithelial tissue expresses both CB₁ and CB₂-receptors. In normal tissue, CB₁-receptors are more commonly expressed, and in abnormal conditions (such as in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease) CB₂-receptors begin to dominate. The CB₁-receptors are routinely involved in the closure of wounds to the colonic epithelium; if damage is chronic, CB₂-receptors become crucial to ensuring that excess scarring does not occur.
In the corneas, injury to the epithelial tissue causes the local release of endogenous cannabinoid and vanilloid receptor agonists that are believed to assist in the process of wound-healing. In a 2010 study, researchers treated human corneal epithelial cells in vitrowith WIN55,212-2 and capsaicin—a CB₁-receptor and a vanilloid-receptor agonist—to determine the role each receptor played. They found that activating either receptor led to the transactivation of the epidermal growth factor receptor, which is vitally important for the regeneration of damaged epidermal and epithelial tissue.
In periodontal tissue, an upsurge in cells expressing CB-receptors was also observed immediately subsequent to injury. As well as this, an increase in anandamide levels in patients who had just undergone periodontal surgery was noted. Administration of AM251 and AM630, synthetic selective antagonists of the CB₁ and CB₂-receptors respectively, was observed to cause significant reductions in fibroblast numbers—suggesting that agonist of the CB-receptors promote fibroblast survival and therefore expedite wound-healing.
Cannabinoids & cirrhosis of the liver
In the liver, chronic tissue damage and inflammation (such as that caused by alcoholism or hepatitis) promotes the wound-healing response, causing fibroblast cells to migrate to the damaged area and begin the process of fibrosis (scar formation). Over time, the overproduction of fibrous connective tissue causes cirrhosis, and inhibits the liver’s ability to function normally.
In this instance, presence of anandamide in high levels could increase the rate of fibrosis and therefore the severity of cirrhosis. Anandamide is an agonist of the CB-receptors; conversely, presence of an antagonist such as cannabinoid could block the effect and slow the rate of fibrosis.
A 2006 study on mice published in Nature Medicine demonstrated that administration of a synthetic CB₁-receptor antagonist, SR141716A, inhibited the wound-healing response to acute hepatic injury, and slowed progression of cirrhosis in three types of chronic injury—supporting the idea that CBD and similar antagonists can help to treat cirrhosis.
The CB₂-receptor & hepatic wound healing
Interestingly, the CB₂-receptor has its own unique role to play in the onset and progression of fibrosis in the liver. Usually present in lower concentrations than CB₁-receptors, their numbers increase dramatically during fibrogenesis (production of fibrous tissue) and after injury.
A 2007 study on mice showed that for mice genetically modified to lack CB₂-receptors, fibrosis was significantly worsened—indicating that presence of CB₂-receptors in typical mice inhibits fibrogenesis. It is thought that the CB₂-receptors exert this effect by causing apoptosis (programmed cell death) of the fibroblasts; when CB₂-receptors are limited in number or absent, the fibroblasts can accumulate and fibrous tissue can thus build up more rapidly .
Hemp seed oil for wound healing
Although hemp seed contains no cannabinoids (except residual traces from the production process), it may be useful in treating burns, cuts and other external wounds due to its unique balance of omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids, which are present in optimum levels for human health.
Although very few formal studies have been done into the ability of hemp seed itself to treat topical injuries, there have been multiple papers written on the ability to improve wound-healing of essential fatty acids in general. There has also been one clinical trial into the uses of topically-applied hemp seed oil, which concluded that it had a good ability to heal mucosal skin wounds after eye, nose and throat surgery.
Thus, cuts, burns, lacerations and other similar injuries may be treatable both with hemp seed oil and with cannabinoid-rich cannabis preparations. For injuries to the internal tissues or organs, cannabinoids have a definite role to play, but further investigation is required so that targeted therapies can be developed. With such a complex and finely tuned system, incorrect dosages or cannabinoid ratios could cause the opposite effect to the intended one.