A drug made from a synthetic form of cannabis may offer a new treatment for those living with Alzheimer’s disease.
The drug, called Nabilone, has already received approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to treat nausea. But recently, the Sunnybrook Research Institute of Toronto, Ontario announced new research on the drug’s ability to treat agitation and aggression, common behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
As the study’s lead researcher, Krista Lanctôt of Sunnybrook’s Health Sciences Center and the University of Toronto, points out in Medpage Today, agitation affects roughly 20 to 50 percent of those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.
Other medications used for agitation, such as antipsychotics, have been associated with side effects including a heightened risk of stroke and even death. Alzheimer’s patients are in need of a safer alternative to treat their behavioral symptoms. Nabilone may be it.
The researchers at Sunnybrook came to their conclusion after conducting a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial—the gold standard for credible research. The study examined 39 individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease—their conditions ranging from moderate to severe—who experience agitation.
Past research on other synthetic cannabis drugs, like Dronabinol, have been similarly promising. In 2014, researchers found that Dronabinol also reduced agitation and aggression in patients diagnosed with dementia. These researchers concluded that Dronabinol “can serve as an adjunctive treatment for neuropsychiatric symptoms in dementia.”
The Sunnybrook researchers are planning to continue their study of Nabilone as a treatment for the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These studies will involve more patients and could take a few years to complete.
One of the next steps for these researchers will be to determine the proper dose of Nabilone when used to treat agitation as well as how to minimize the sedation associated with taking the drug. Nearly 50 percent of patients involved in the trial were found to be noticeably sleepy, one potential side effect of using Nabilone in this way. Cannabinoids are known to produce a similar effect.
Currently, Nabilone is used to treat nausea and vomiting for those undergoing chemotherapy. Nabilone was developed by Eli Lilly and Company and is sold under the name “Cesamet.” This study received funding from the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.