Latest study suggests that low-dose oral marijuana pills containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may not help treat neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia, such as pacing, wandering, and aggression.

Previous studies in mice and clinical trials on humans have recommended that THC in marijuana plants could help lessen some dementia-related symptoms, that include agitation and motor control complications. Study co-author Marcel Olde Rikkert, a geriatrics scientist from Radboud University Medical Center, states that these were either not well-controlled enough or too small to conclusively display a benefit, but the findings were sufficient to request a more thorough research, especially because existing treatments such as antipsychotics may have harmful side effects for aging patients.

A group of scientists randomly recruited 50 dementia patients without other severe disorders. They placed 26 on a placebo treatment and the other 24 on 1.5 milligrams of THC, three times daily for three weeks. The 24 patients were given cannabis provided by Echo Pharmaceuticals, a Dutch company which provides extracts of the sativa species of the cannabis plant and purified cannabinoids. The sativa strains are commonly used for cerebral related cases.

The research was conducted in a double-blind process, so neither the patients nor the researchers can identify which group is which. During the first week, the patients' caregivers recorded their levels of symptoms like aggression and agitation in the Neuropsychiatric Inventory. For the last two weeks, they logged the survey again in the Neuropsychiatric Inventory, but this time, the caregivers allowed the researchers to compare the scores of both control groups.

The researchers noticed that the scores for patients under the THC treatment got better over the course of the study. However, the placebo recipients improved also and there was no significant difference between the control groups based on the statistical data.

The scientists also noted that patients were not given as high a dose of THC as someone taking it for other medical purposes or somebody smoking cannabis recreationally and no significant amount of side effects were observed among the subjects.

"Since the side effects were mild to moderate, it's possible that a higher dose could be tolerated and could possibly be beneficial," said co-author Dr. Geke A.H. van den Elsen of Radboud University Medical Center. "Future studies are needed to test this. A drug that can treat the behavioral symptoms of dementia is much needed, as about 62 percent of dementia patients in the general community and up to 80 percent of nursing home residents experience these symptoms."

The research was funded by the Province of Gelderland and the European Regional Development Fund, and was published online in the medical journal Neurology on the May 13, 2015.

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