A new study suggests that a cannabis-like drug called nabilone might treat agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The synthetic drug is typically used to control nausea in cancer patients.
Agitation is one of the most disturbing Alzheimer’s symptoms and it can be very tough to manage. In order to control the symptom, many doctors go against medical advice and prescribe antipsychotic drugs and sometimes even physically restrain patients.
“Agitation, aggression, sleep disturbances — all have a significant impact on both their quality of life and their carers’ quality of life,” said Heather Snyder, senior director of medical operations for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Currently prescribed treatments for agitation in Alzheimer’s do not work in everybody, and when they do work the effect is small and they increase risk of harmful side effects, including increased risk of death,” said Krista Lanctôt of the University of Toronto, who led the research. “As a result, there is an urgent need for safer medication options.”
Lanctôt are her team tested nabilone for six weeks by giving the pill to 39 dementia patients. Afterwards, they gave them a placebo for an additional six weeks.
“Agitation improved significantly in those taking nabilone, compared to placebo,” the Alzheimer’s Association said in a summary of the research, which is being presented at its annual Chicago meeting.
The non-profit association also said that “nabilone also significantly improved overall behavioral symptoms, compared to placebo, as measured by the Neuropsychiatric Inventory” questionnaire.
The findings were published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.