HALF of dementia sufferers may be helped by a cannabis-based mouth spray, experts claim.
British researchers want to test whether the peppermint-flavoured treatment can reduce agitation experienced by many with the disease.
Around 850,000 Brits currently have dementia – and the figure is expected to hit one million within a decade.
There is currently no cure, although some drugs can limit the symptoms.
As well as memory problems and confusion, half of dementia victims experience challenging behaviour, such as raised aggression.
MS drug being trialled in dementia patients
Alzheimer’s Research UK is funding a £300,000 trial into whether the drug Sativex can help ease these changes.
The cannabis-based drug is currently licensed for use in the UK for treating patients with MS.
Scientists from King’s College London are now recruiting volunteers with Alzheimer’s who are living in care homes and have symptoms of agitation.
Participants will take the medication for four weeks or a dummy drug.
Aggression is common and distressing symptom
Researcher Prof Dag Aarsland, an Old Age Psychiatrist, said: “Many people with Alzheimer’s can become agitated or aggressive, and this can pose difficulties for the person with the condition and those closest to them.
“Current treatments for behavioural and psychiatric symptoms of dementia are very limited, and we desperately need to develop alternatives.
“Doctors sometimes prescribe anti-psychotic medications, and while these drugs can have important benefits, these need to be weighed against the risk of very serious side effects.”
Sativex contains two key cannabinoids found in illicit drug – delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Hope for thousands
Experts said if these early tests prove a success, a much larger clinical trial will follow.
MORE ON DEMENTIA
Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, warned there is no evidence smoking cannabis can ease dementia symptoms.
He said: “With no new dementia treatments in over 15 years, it is vital that we test a wide range of approaches to find effective ways to help people living with the condition.
“While a major focus for dementia research is to develop drugs that slow or stop the progression of the physical diseases that cause dementia, what really matters is that a medicine benefits people’s day-to-day lives.
“The trial opens the door to a treatment that may help to alleviate an extremely challenging set of symptoms.”
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