The TRUTH About Marijuana & Alzheimer’s [Controversial New Study Explained]


Cannabis & Alzheimer’s – it’s all over the news.  Does Marijuana cause Alzheimer’s?  This week, the Journal of Alzheimer’s published a study suggesting marijuana causes Alzheimer’s disease.

If you’re freaking out about the purported link between cannabis and Alzheimer’s disease, take a deep breath and read on.


Generational Divide

Did you know, according to a 2016 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans want cannabis legalized?

If you dive into the data, you’ll find the stats are generationally disproportionate.

Older Americans, (i.e. the Silent Generation) remain heavily opposed to marijuana legalization (59% want weed illegal!).  Whereas a whopping 71% of millennials are in favor of legalization.

Those numbers are super sad because the silent generation stands to benefit the most from medical cannabis.

READ:  Seniors Turn to Cannabis for Treatment



Older Patients Need Cannabis Education

Medical professionals (in legal regions) are striving to educate older patients about this incredible medical option, but decades of propaganda is challenging to break through.

Patients, older patients especially, are afraid of the mythical dangers of cannabis.

Now, new “research” is preying on the elderly’s greatest fears.  Just the mention of Alzheimer’s Disease compounds the problem.


Preposterous Claims

The “study” makes broad claims that marijuana causes cerebral brain flow changes possibly causing Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study suggests that SPECT is an accepted tool for predicting Alzheimer’s disease.  IT’S NOT.

The study suggests that decreased cerebral blood flow causes Alzheimer’s Disease.    IT’S DOES NOT.



The Truth About Cerebral Blood Flow

Low cerebral blood flow has been observed in Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s also been observed in patients with a variety of other conditions and impairments, including common issues like diabetes, high blood pressure,  even depression.

Something as simple as not exercising for 10 days can cause a decrease in cerebral blood flow!

READ ON PSYCH CENTRAL:  Not Exercising Reduces Cerebral Blood Flow

Cerebral blood flow changes have also been observed in addiction.

In fact, this study was conducted on neuropsychiatric patients struggling with addiction – not your run-of-the-mill cannabis users.




There is NO DEFINITIVE TEST to determine you if you will or will not develop Alzheimer’s disease.  An Alzheimer’s diagnostic test simply does not exist.

SPECT cannot predict Alzheimer’s disease.  Nothing can.  (yet!)



Sketchy Study Details

The research was conducted by Dr. Amen, founder of nine neuropsychiatric clinics, a line of pricey supplements.  He’s most well-known for his controversial use of SPECT (Single-photon emission computed tomography).

One of Dr. Amen’s shiny cash cows is his addiction treatment program.  If you visit his web page you’ll see this:

does marijuana cause alzheimer's?


Do you see that bold blue sentence?  This is from Dr. Amen’s website.  It says:

“Brain dysfunction is the number-one reason why people fall victim to addiction, why they can’t break the chains of addiction and why they relapse.”

Hmmm….Dr. Amen’s website seems to convey that they EXPECT to see brain changes in addiction???

That’s true.   Addiction is a disease.  Clinically, we expect to see brain changes and abnormalities.

Dr. Amen’s site further explains , “MOST people with addiction also have co-existing conditions”.

And yes, that’s true too.  We expect comorbidities in patients struggling with addiction.  We also EXPECT to see brain changes in patients who suffer from psychiatric comorbidities.

Even though Dr. Amen preaches this – here’s what his team did ANYWAY!


What Dr. A Actually Did

Dr. Amen’s team sorted through his database of seriously ill patients.  All of these patients sought treatment for addiction at one of his neuropsychiatric clinics.

Dr. Amen plucked out 982 brain scans of patients with a very specific addiction diagnosis.

The patients selected for the study had been formally diagnosed with “cannabis use disorder” by Dr. Amen’s team.


Wait, Is Cannabis Addictive?

Yes, cannabis can be addictive.

Caffeine can be addictive.  Cigarettes can be addictive.  Sex & gambling can be addictive.   Pumpkin spiced lattes can be addictive.  (OK – not really the lattes.)

READ:  Cannabis Withdrawal Is Similar to Caffeine Withdrawal



What Is Cannabis Use Disorder?

Cannabis use disorder is a mental illness with specific diagnostic criteria.  It’s published in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) alongside other substance abuse disorders, like alcohol addiction.

READ ON HIGH TIMES:  Pot Matters:  Marijuana Use Disorder

Like ALL addictions, we should EXPECT brain changes in patients diagnosed with cannabis use disorder.  So why would Dr. Amen even bother?


Dr. A’s a Killer Marketer

(After all, he does have SPECT scans & supplements to sell!)

Dr. A’s “study” was designed to attract attention with the magic words:  “Marijuana User & Alzheimer’s”

In Dr. Amen’s “study”, he refers to his ill neuropsychiatric patients bluntly as “Marijuana Users”.


If I Drink Once A Year, Am I An Alcoholic?

What would Dr. Amen say?

Let me tell you about my mom.  She doesn’t drink often, never has, but every Christmas Eve, my mom enjoys Cosmos.  It’s a tradition.  The rest of the year, she barely drinks.

She might be an occasional alcohol user, but that certainly doesn’t make her an alcoholic – she does not meet the qualifications for a DSM-5 diagnosis, “alcohol use disorder”.

The same must be said of marijuana users.

A casual marijuana user does not meet the qualification for a DSM-5 diagnosis of “cannabis use disorder”.

The brain of casual marijuana is significantly different than a neuropsychiatric patient who’s suffers from cannabis use disorder (and likely other psychiatric comorbidities).


Such blurry lines are irresponsible.

Patients suffering from addiction, who’ve entrusted themselves into a Doctor’s care deserve more respect for their disease.   Their mental illness should not be belittled simply as “marijuana use”.  That’s sad.



Cannabis use disorder is a mental disease, similar to alcohol use disorder.

Fortunately only a 9% of marijuana users develop cannabis use disorder. (Some call this statistic inflated.) That statistic is equivalent to a male’s risk for alcohol dependence.



Rabble-Rousing Pseudo-Science?

Dr. Amen’s irresponsibility doesn’t end with his rabble-rousing classification.  The “science” of the “study” is flawed and discredited as pseudo-science by much of the medical community.

READ ABOUT IT IN THE WASHINGTON POST:  Daniel Amen, pioneer or Profiteer?

OR ON SALON:   Daniel Amen & SPECT




Who Poppycock Hurts The Most

Our senior citizens – our older population of patients – most of whom suffer from more than one medical condition.

Most senior citizens take more than four medications a day.  They are then at risk for a multitude of side effects and interactions.

Polypharmacy in the elderly is a serious issue globally.    Polypharmacy is taking multiple medications OR taking more medications than is medically necessary.

Medical marijuana has the potential to treat HUNDREDS of medical conditions.  Cannabis can often replace multiple prescriptions and causes fewer side effects.

Research Says Cannabis PROTECTS the Brain

Numerous studies have reinforced the theory that cannabis PROTECTS the brain.

READ THE RESEARCH YOURSELF:  The Effects of Medical Marijuana on Alzheimer’s Disease

Marijuana’s brain protecting abilities are so powerful, the federal government filed a patent on marijuana’s active compounds in 2001.



YOU Have a RIGHT to Effective Medication

We need to mitigate the fear of marijuana with responsible research conducted by impartial research teams.

If you’re suffering, and live in a legal area, please seek out a medical professional with cannabis experience.

This medication is improving the lives of millions – ignore the poppycock and fight for your right to access this new medication.  It might just change YOUR life.

Written by Jessie Gill

Jessie Gill, RN is a cannabis nurse with a background in holistic health and hospice. After suffering a spinal injury, she reluctantly became a medical marijuana patient then quickly transitioned into an advocate. Her site, combines science with personal insight to educate about medical marijuana. She’s been featured on Viceland and bylines include GoodHousekeeping, Cosmopolitan, MSN, and more.

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