In a world-first trial, people living with moderate dementia will be given cannabis to see if the drug is effective in treating a range of symptoms and improving quality of life.
The groundbreaking trial will be held over 14 months, and will follow 50 aged care residents who are living with moderate dementia.
The cannabis medication will be administered using a mouth spray, with doses monitored and adjusted over the course of the study.
Those with dementia taking part in the trial, and their carers, will complete questionnaires to track changes in behaviour.
Cannabis has already been shown to help with symptoms such as nausea and mild anxiety, and can have an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s also believed that cannabis can increase appetite and improve sleep patterns.
Trial could mean people with dementia can take fewer medications
Dr Amanda Timler, a researcher at the University of Notre Dame, told HelloCare, she hopes the trial will show cannabis can ease some of the more difficult symptoms of dementia.
“We think that cannabis may help to lesson some of the behavioral symptoms such as agitation, aggression and appetite that are associated with dementia.”
The study is a randomized double blinded cross-over trial, in which participants will take either medicinal cannabis or a placebo for two weeks, then have a two week washout period. The participant will then receive the other medication, either the cannabis oil or the placebo, for another six weeks.
The researchers will measure the behavioural signs and symptoms associated with dementia, as well as quality of life and pain.
Dr Timler said the side effects of consuming cannabis are minimal. “The number of side effects associated with cannabis are often minimal compared to other traditional medications taken for those with dementia. We are monitoring patients safety throughout the study and are not asking for any changes to previously prescribed medication to be made,” she said.
Dr Timler told 7news’ ‘Sunrise’ the researchers hope the trial will mean people living with dementia could be able to take fewer medications in the future.
“We think it’s one of those medications that’s going to treat a number of symptoms overall compared with typically being diagnosed with dementia and taking a number of different drugs.”
Dementia in Australia
There are currently nearly 450,000 people in Australia who have been diagnosed with dementia, and that number is expected to more than double to more than one million in the next forty years.
Dementia is now the second leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease, and is the leading cause of death for women.
With no cure available, there is now considerable research focus on the treatment of dementia symptoms.
The Notre Dame researchers are currently recruiting 50 residents who are aged 65 years and older and who are living in residential aged care in Perth to take part in the study. Aged care managers can email Dr Timler on Amanda.Timler1@my.nd.edu.au.
This article was edited on 2 October 2019 to include a comment from University of Notre Dame researcher, Dr Amanda Timler.