Evidence based

CBD and Neurodegeneration: Current Research & Understanding

Neurodegeneration is an umbrella term used to describe any progressive loss of neuron function. CBD has been shown to be beneficial to several neurodegenerative conditions. Here’s how it works.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

Neurodegenerative disorders are conditions involving a loss of neuron function in the brain and spinal cord. [1]

As neurons are lost, brain function begins to suffer. This produces problems with memory, concentration, attention, muscle coordination, and language. There are many causes of neurodegeneration, but the main risk factor is age.

Therefore, with an aging population, neurodegenerative disorders are beginning to become a significant public health concern. Researchers are beginning to explore new treatment options.

One such candidate is cannabidiol (CBD) — the primary medicinal component of the cannabis plant.

So, can CBD offer support for chronic neurodegenerative disorders? How is it used? What does the research show?

  • MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY

    Carlos G. Aguirre, M.D.,Pediatric Neurologist

    Updated on November 05, 2019

  • Table of Contents

Summary: Using CBD for Neurodegeneration

Neurodegenerative disorders are characterized by a gradual loss of neurons in particular regions of the nervous system. This cell loss causes a decline in cognitive ability and accounts for most of the symptoms experienced with this condition.

Cannabis has shown promise as a protective agent in several neurodegenerative disorders, including:

  • Multiple sclerosis [2]
  • Alzheimer’s disease [3]
  • Spinal cord injury [4,5]
  • Prion disease (minor improvement) [6]
  • Parkinson’s disease [7]

Researchers are still disputing exactly how CBD and other cannabinoids are effective for slowing the progression of neurodegenerative disorders. The interaction between CBD and the nervous system is complex — involving multiple separate processes going on at the same time.

However, the general idea is that CBD supports homeostasis of the nervous system. This means it supports the balance of various factors involved with neurological function, including inflammation, pain transmission, nerve excitability, and immune function.

The primary mechanisms CBD uses to resist neurodegenerative disorders include:

  • Reducing or preventing neuroinflammation
  • Preventing T-cell migration across the blood-brain barrier (autoimmune prevention)
  • Antioxidant support (reduces DNA damage)
  • Addresses related side-effects (such as insomnia, depression, and neuropathic pain)

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Using CBD for Neurodegenerative Disorders:

  1. Use a full-spectrum extract (THC also offers benefits for these conditions)
  2. Incorporate improvements of diet and lifestyle choices at the same time as CBD supplementation
  3. If there is an environmental cause (such as heavy metal exposure), make sure this is removed immediately
  4. Be consistent with dosing — it can take up to three months before any changes are experienced when it comes to neurodegenerative disorders

What is Neurodegeneration?

Neurodegeneration is an umbrella term for a series of unrelated medical conditions that result in a loss of neuron function.

The primary cause for this condition is dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease — accounting for up to 70% of cases around the world, according to JPND Research.

These disorders are generally progressive, worsening in severity and rate of degeneration over time. This can take any time from a few months to a few decades. However, the process of neurodegeneration usually begins long before symptoms start to appear.

Evidence in recent years has pointed the finger at inflammation in the brain as one of the primary drivers of neurodegeneration [8]. The problem with this is that it’s also necessary for resisting neurological damage — prompting researchers to regard neuroinflammation as the “double-edged sword” of neurodegeneration.

When something causes damage to the neurons in the brain — for which there are too many potential causes to count — local immune cells start the inflammatory process.

In the early stages, this is beneficial — even necessary — for eliminating toxic materials. This is because inflammation speeds recovery of the neurons by boosting blood flow to the area and bringing in defensive immune cells to remove any infectious materials.

The problem is that, in many cases, this inflammation goes out of control, causing a cascade of devastating, long-term inflammation in the brain. Excessive inflammation causes the microglia to release toxic substances into the brain, ultimately leading to the death of the neurons. These microglia are tasked with keeping the neurons safe [9, 10].

The whole process goes from a typical inflammatory response to a devastating, self-perpetuating process of degeneration and loss of neurons.

What Causes Neurodegeneration?

  • Environmental toxic exposure (such as heavy metal exposure)
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Oxidative damage
  • Genetic factors

Examples of Neurodegenerative Disorders

1. Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of neurodegeneration. It involves the buildup of toxic metabolites (TAU proteins or beta-amyloid plaque) around the neurons. Eventually, this results in neuron death and gradual cognitive debility. Alzheimer’s disease, like most other neurodegenerative disorders, is associated with excessive neuroinflammation [11, 12].

CBD offers benefits to this condition primarily through its anti-inflammatory effects.

2. Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting the basal ganglia where dopamine is manufactured. The result is a gradual loss of dopamine in the brain, causing muscle tremors, mood changes, and a gradual loss of cognitive function.

Like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s is considered to rely on excessive inflammatory processes in the brain [11, 12].

CBD, therefore, offers relief from this condition through its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective actions.

3. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) and Other Prion Diseases

Prion diseases such as CJD aren’t common but bring devastating side-effects as the disease progresses. It involves a misfolded, protease-resistant protein (PrPres) entering the brain and replicating. Being resistant to protease means that the brain cells cannot break down and remove this protein from the brain. Therefore, as these proteins replicate and build up in the brain, they begin to interfere with healthy brain function. Currently, there’s no cure for prion diseases.

Although inflammation is a primary factor involved with prion disease progression, CBD has only been shown to have minor benefits on the condition by resisting the buildup of PrPres [13].

4. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease causing gradual — and ultimately fatal — disruption in signals controlling voluntary muscles throughout the body.

There is no cure for ALS, but CBD has been shown to offer significant benefits.

5. Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder with similar characteristics to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a genetic disorder involving dysfunction in the gene encoding for a protein called huntingtin. People with Huntington’s disease manufacture huntingtin proteins that are too long. They fracture into smaller pieces and become tangled around the neurons — leading to their gradual death. As Huntington’s builds up, it causes widespread inflammation throughout the brain and loss of cognitive function over time.

There is no cure for Huntington’s disease, but CBD has been shown to offer significant benefits — slowing progression and alleviating many of the most common symptoms [14].

6. Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA)

SCA is a progressive, inherited neurodegenerative disease affecting the cerebellum — the part of the brain associated with coordination and muscle movement. There is no cure for the disease, and it’s often fatal.

Treatment is focused on alleviating symptoms such as muscle tremors, depression, and insomnia — all of which CBD is well-known to help.

7. Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)

SMA is a rare neurodegenerative disorder affecting the motor neurons controlling the muscles. Eventually, the disease causes loss of muscle function and muscle wasting. Like many other neurodegenerative disorders, the condition is caused by a dysfunction in producing a particular protein in the brain. Over time, these dysfunctional proteins build-up, resulting in the death of the neurons. There is no cure for this condition.

It’s unclear whether CBD is beneficial to those with SMA. The majority of side-effects of this condition involve muscle weakness — something CBD isn’t thought to improve.

8. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

MS is an autoimmune-driven neurodegenerative disorder. Widespread neuroinflammation causes immune cells to attack the myelin sheath on the nerve cells, causing a gradual loss of neuron function.

CBD is very beneficial to this condition through its immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects — both of which are primary factors involved with the progression of MS [15]. Additionally, CBD may provide direct benefits to some of the most common side-effects of MS, including muscle spasticity [16] and loss of bladder control [17].

Symptoms of Neurodegenerative Disorders

  • Memory loss
  • Loss of motor function
  • Mood changes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Poor concentration
  • Low libido

Using CBD for Neurodegenerative Disorders

Step 1: Find the Best CBD Oil for Neurodegenerative Disorders

Neurodegenerative disorders are a combination of many different neurological and systemic issues working together to produce a gradual loss of neurons.

Therefore, treating these conditions isn’t as straightforward as just addressing one of these issues at a time — it relies on addressing several of them at the same time.

CBD oils and other cannabis products should, therefore, be combined with other treatments and lifestyle and dietary changes for best results.

So, when searching for the best oils for neurodegenerative disorders, there are two things to consider:

  1. Has the CBD product been proven to be free from contaminants such as heavy metals or pesticides?
  2. Does the potency of the CBD product match the recommended dose? In the case of neurodegenerative disorders, this usually means using a high-potency extract.

It’s also useful to opt for a full-spectrum CBD extract rather than an isolate if you want to leverage the neuroprotective benefits of some of the other cannabinoids. However, if this isn’t possible, or you’ve decided you like a company selling CBD isolates, that’s okay. It will still work but just isn’t the best CBD oil for the job.

For more information on finding the best CBD products, check out some of our guides:

Step 2: Assess Optimal Starting Dosage

Most of the research involving CBD and other cannabinoids for neurodegenerative disorders involve very high doses — usually in the realm of around 500 mg per day.

Although it may not be totally necessary to use a dose this high, it does suggest that the high end of the dosage range is the most beneficial.

Therefore, when first starting with CBD as a neuroprotective agent for neurodegenerative disorders, it’s good to aim for the high-strength doses.

However, remember to start low and build up over time. Everyone reacts differently to CBD, so it’s therefore important that you take a conservative approach to find the right dose to avoid any negative side-effects.

Recommended strength for neurodegenerative disorders: medium to high strength

Daily Doses of CBD by Weight and Strength (in mg)

Weight (lbs)Low StrengthMedium StrengthHigh Strength

100 lbs

10 mg

30 mg

60 mg

125 lbs

13 mg

38 mg

75 mg

150 lbs

15 mg

45 mg

90 mg

175 lbs

17 mg

52 mg

105 mg

200 lbs

20 mg

60 mg

120 mg

225 lbs

22 mg

67 mg

135 mg

250 lbs

25 mg

75 mg

150 mg

Step 3: Monitor the Effects of CBD

Neurodegenerative disorders are long-term medical conditions — and most of them have no cure. CBD can be used to slow the progression of the disease and alleviate common side-effects but isn’t going to cure the condition.

Therefore, it’s helpful to track the progress of the disease over time to identify whether the CBD is working or if the dose needs to be increased.

You can do this by taking detailed notes about your symptoms. Then, you can go back and see if there have been any improvements over time. Additionally, in the case of progressive neurodegenerative disorders, you can track the rate of progression of the disease.

When to Avoid Using CBD or Cannabis-Related Products

Even though CBD is very safe, there are some instances when you must first consult with an experienced medical professional before taking it:

  • If you have psychosis
  • If you have bipolar disorder (caution)
  • Whenever taking antipsychotics or certain antidepressants

References

  1. Przedborski, S., Vila, M., & Jackson-Lewis, V. (2003). Series Introduction: Neurodegeneration: What is it and where are we?. The Journal of clinical investigation, 111(1), 3-10.
  2. Wade, D. T., Collin, C., Stott, C., & Duncombe, P. (2010). Meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of Sativex (nabiximols), on spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis Journal, 16(6), 707-714.
  3. Martín-Moreno, A. M., Reigada, D., Ramírez, B. G., Mechoulam, R., Innamorato, N., Cuadrado, A., & de Ceballos, M. L. (2011). Cannabidiol and other cannabinoids reduce microglial activation in vitro and in vivo: relevance to Alzheimers′ disease. Molecular pharmacology, mol-111.
  4. Barnes, M. P. (2006). Sativex®: clinical efficacy and tolerability in the treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain. Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy, 7(5), 607-615.
  5. Kwiatkoski, M., Guimaraes, F. S., & Del-Bel, E. (2012). Cannabidiol-treated rats exhibited higher motor score after cryogenic spinal cord injury. Neurotoxicity research, 21(3), 271-280.
  6. Dirikoc, S., Priola, S. A., Marella, M., Zsürger, N., & Chabry, J. (2007). Nonpsychoactive cannabidiol prevents prion accumulation and protects neurons against prion toxicity. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(36), 9537-9544.
  7. Chagas, M. H. N., Zuardi, A. W., Tumas, V., Pena-Pereira, M. A., Sobreira, E. T., Bergamaschi, M. M., … & Crippa, J. A. S. (2014). Effects of cannabidiol in the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s disease: an exploratory double-blind trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28(11), 1088-1098.
  8. Skaper, S. D. (2007). The brain as a target for inflammatory processes and neuroprotective strategies. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1122(1), 23-34.
  9. DeLegge, M. H., & Smoke, A. (2008). Neurodegeneration and inflammation. Nutrition in clinical practice, 23(1), 35-41.
  10. Di Filippo, M., Sarchielli, P., Picconi, B., & Calabresi, P. (2008). Neuroinflammation and synaptic plasticity: theoretical basis for a novel, immune-centred, therapeutic approach to neurological disorders. Trends in pharmacological sciences, 29(8), 402-412.
  11. Maragakis, N. J., & Rothstein, J. D. (2006). Mechanisms of disease: astrocytes in neurodegenerative disease. Nature Reviews Neurology, 2(12), 679.
  12. Zipp, F., & Aktas, O. (2006). The brain as a target of inflammation: common pathways link inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. Trends in neurosciences, 29(9), 518-527.
  13. Dirikoc, S., Priola, S. A., Marella, M., Zsürger, N., & Chabry, J. (2007). Nonpsychoactive cannabidiol prevents prion accumulation and protects neurons against prion toxicity. Journal of Neuroscience, 27(36), 9537-9544.
  14. Sagredo, O., Pazos, M. R., Satta, V., Ramos, J. A., Pertwee, R. G., & Fernández‐Ruiz, J. (2011). Neuroprotective effects of phytocannabinoid‐based medicines in experimental models of Huntington’s disease. Journal of neuroscience research, 89(9), 1509-1518.
  15. Mecha, M., Feliú, A., Iñigo, P. M., Mestre, L., Carrillo-Salinas, F. J., & Guaza, C. (2013). Cannabidiol provides long-lasting protection against the deleterious effects of inflammation in a viral model of multiple sclerosis: a role for A2A receptors. Neurobiology of disease, 59, 141-150.
  16. Notcutt, W., Langford, R., Davies, P., Ratcliffe, S., & Potts, R. (2012). A placebo-controlled, parallel-group, randomized withdrawal study of subjects with symptoms of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis who are receiving long-term Sativex®(nabiximols). Multiple Sclerosis Journal, 18(2), 219-228.
  17. Wade, D. T., Collin, C., Stott, C., & Duncombe, P. (2010). Meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of Sativex (nabiximols), on spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis Journal, 16(6), 707-714.

Conditions that May Respond to Cannabidiol