I went home to visit my family, first time in ten years. My dad had been diagnosed with dementia but I had no idea how it had changed him.

One night at dinner, my dad told a humorous World War II training camp story to us -- five times in a row. I was shocked but didn’t know how to react. My mom had her chin in her hand and a faraway look in her eyes. I think she stopped listening to him after the third time.

This is a classic example of dementia that eventually devolves into Alzheimer’s disease. There are 4.5 million Americans affected by Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. In a simple definition, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes brain cells to die, leading to brain shrinkage. This destroys thinking, behavior and memory.

Other symptoms include loss of appetite; difficulties solving problems and with planning; inability to understand conversations; withdrawal from social interactions; poor motor function and judgment. Also, weight control, and agitation.

Toward the end of my dad’s life, he wandered around the house eating small handfuls of snacks. Then he’d spend hours downstairs, in the open garage with his dog, listening to sports or news radio. Every so often, he would sneak a warm Bud from the trunk of his car since my mom wouldn’t let him keep beer in the refrigerator. Eventually, he withdrew from practically everything and everybody. Every day the same thing until he couldn’t get up and down the stairs anymore.

The cause of Alzheimer’s is thought to be a mix of genetics, environmental factors, lifestyle factors and age risk which increases at age 65 and beyond. My dad was 83 years old at the time. What scientists have discovered about Alzheimer’s is that neural plaques interrupt crucial thought processes as they disrupt travel of nerve impulses to nerve cells, thus degrading needed information. These amyloid plaques not only block nerve impulses but cause inflammation around the nerve cells.

Researchers have found that activation of naturally occurring CB1 receptors resulted in anti-inflammatory effects, perhaps staving off neurodegenerative damage.

The Role of Endocannabinoids

Endocannabinoids are naturally created cannabinoids which circulate and lock into God-given cannabinoid receptors in our brain and body. These receptors, CB1 and CB2, are embedded in the tissues of various organs and help with cell communication.

The endocannabinoid system is intimately tied into calming mitochondrial dysfunction; neuroinflammation; excitotoxicity and oxidative stress. For those of you not up on biology, mitochondria are the power sources of cells. CB1 and CB2 receptors help with neurotransmission affected by neurodegenerative processes with CB2 receptors reducing inflammation.

There is an endocannabinoid called Anandamide, a recently identified cannabinoid compound which interacts with both THC and CBC.

In case you are reading this and think “CBC” is a typo, think again. CBC stands for “cannabichromene”, an endocannabinoid that researchers find interesting for its great potential for medical use. It is theorized that CBC enhances the pain-relief qualities of THC.

This is a synergistic relationship at the molecular level. Anyway, it works for me. This relatively rare compound also inhibits inflammation; encourages bone growth and has demonstrated cancer-fighting qualities. Preliminary research has shown that breast and colorectal cancer both had reductions in the number of occurrences.

The body’s CB2 receptors are found predominately in immune cells and hematopoietic cells. What? Okay, well “hematopoietic” cells basically stem cells that give rise to other blood cellular components through the process of differentiation. Important components such as macrophages, T cells of the immune system and B cells. These components also could be targets for diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis.

Another advantage medical cannabis may offer is that THC decreases plaque amyloid-beta levels and enhances mitochondrial functioning. CBD, cannabidiol, has been shown to modulate the actions of cells which produce myelin, the protein sheath protecting nerve cells, preventing excessive plaque build-up.

One study demonstrated that CBD increased cell survival. How? With properties including anti-oxidative; anti-inflammatory; and preventing premature cell death. All indicate that CBD may have the ability to reverse cognitive degenerative defects of Alzheimer’s. Another study found deficits of endocannabinoids in Alzheimer’s disease patients. This suggests that supplementing with cannabis could have a mediating effect on developing the disease.

And lastly, in 2014 the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease demonstrated that low-dose THC is effective at reducing the amyloid beta plaques that most researchers conclude leads to Alzheimer’s.

“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Chuanhai Cao, lead researcher of the study based at the University of South Florida’s Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute. “Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future.”