The myriad benefits of cannabis for Alzheimer’s patients will be the subject of a special event for doctors, patients, caregivers and dispensary technicians to be held Mar. 30 at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in San Juan.
Attending doctors will benefit by receiving two continuing education credit-hours free of charge, as part of the Puerto Rico cannabis license’s yearly requirements, provided by CannaWorks Institute.
With a significantly higher mortality rate in Puerto Rico than in the mainland United States, Alzheimer’s represents an ongoing health challenge for physicians, patients and their caregivers. Indeed, the disease constitutes the fourth leading cause of death on the island compared to the sixth cause of death in the US mainland, more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
Scientific research offers cannabis as a powerful tool for treating those affected by the disease, for which there is no cure.
“Cannabis can help improve Alzheimer’s patients’ quality of life and that of caregivers as well. Sometimes patients are unaware of what is happening around them, but caregivers suffer these changes exponentially,” said neurologist Ivonne Fraga.
The use of cannabinoids, particularly small doses of Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, may help alleviate the health and behavioral effects of the condition in both patients and caregivers. For instance, cannabis can help treat so-called Sundown Syndrome in which patients experience increased agitation and confusion as daylight disappears.
THC lessens symptoms such as anxiety, aggression and sleep deprivation in Alzheimer patients.
“The more difficult part of the disease to manage is the behavioral component,” Fraga said. “It has an enormous impact on both patients and caregivers.”
As the disease progresses, the effect of available medications to preserve the patient’s memory and cognitive functions diminishes. According to Fraga, cannabis can help close the existing gap in patient treatment and serve to complement to traditional medicine. Such treatment options are limited because of the potential for harmful side effects.
Alzheimer’s is one of the approved conditions for treatment with cannabis by the Puerto Rico Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Regulatory Board, although the number of registered patients for the conditions remains relatively low.
Besides a discussion of medical aspects and effects of the disease itself, other subjects to be presented as part of the educational sessions include the adequate methods of cannabis consumption for Alzheimer patients and how to treat new patients and their caregivers at the dispensary level. Moreover, caregivers will be given tips on how to communicate better with patients and useful tools to manage stress, to minimize the feedback loop among them.
Invited speakers include Fraga and neuropsychologist Josefina Meléndez-Cabrero, as well as Lizelle Arzuaga, a yoga and Ayurveda expert.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for patients and caregivers as well, to gather information not only about medical aspects of the disease but also techniques to maintain an internal sense of balance, peace, focus, and empathy throughout a very difficult process,” Arzuaga said.