The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program's Medical Advisory Board voted unanimously to add neurodegenerative dementia including Alzheimer's disease (AD) to the list of medical conditions eligible for the Medical Cannabis Program. The Secretary of Health will have the final decision. Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer's patients in thirteen of the states that authorize its use.
The Drug Policy Alliance filed the petition on behalf of all New Mexicans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Although Alzheimer's disease was specifically petitioned for, the board chose to expand their recommendation to include all types of neurodegenerative dementia.
"The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board's action not only recognizes the debilitating impact neurodegenerative diseases have on New Mexico's increasing elderly population, it recognizes that medical cannabis should be part of a larger comprehensive approach to support our elders' quality of life," stated Emily Kaltenbach, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office. "New Mexico has a long history of respecting our elders and the Board's compassionate recommendation to add these conditions is clearly rooted in the great values of our state."
Alzheimer's disease, similar to many of the conditions presently included in New Mexico's Compassionate Use Act, is a neurologic disease and has no known cure. Existing medications provide only temporary relief, without stopping the progression of the disease.
Santa Fe resident and local radio show host, Larry Love, is a caregiver and legal guardian for his mother who suffers from cognitive impairment, a condition often seen before the onset of Alzheimer's disease. "My mother became part of the medical cannabis program because she has a lot of physical pain, and it helps her with that. Medical cannabis also helps increase her appetite and desire to eat as well as calms and soothes her and allows her to have restful sleep," said Love. "Other people who suffer from dementia and conditions like Alzheimer's should be able to participate in New Mexico's medical cannabis program too. This medicine can improve the quality of life and lessen the suffering of thousands of New Mexican elders."
Peer reviewed studies suggest that medical cannabis may improve symptoms related to Alzheimer's disease and support the pharmacological and physiological benefits seen in the use of cannabinoid compounds and whole plant medicine on general symptoms of neurodegeneration.
"Medical cannabis studies have shown that people suffering from Alzheimer's disease related anorexia and nighttime agitation, increase their body mass and have improved sleep patterns," said Jessica Gelay, Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Additionally, emerging evidence suggests potential for cannabis to be beneficial in reducing inflammation in the brain, a factor that can lead to the onset of Alzheimer's disease."
Professor Gary Wenk, of Ohio State University, whose research focuses on chronic brain inflammation and Alzheimer's began studying cannabis compounds after other pharmaceuticals he studied "consistently failed to reduce inflammation in the brain." Wenk's animal study results show cannabis to be "the most potent brain anti-inflammatory available."
More than 30,000 New Mexicans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease, and the number is expected to increase to more than 40,000 by 2025. It is the leading cause of dementia among the elderly and is estimated to affect approximately one in nine people of the population over 65 years of age. Racial and cultural disparities are evident when considering the prevalence of AD among elderly New Mexicans. Older Hispanics are one and a half times more likely to have dementia than Anglos. Veterans, who comprise eleven percent of New Mexico's population, who suffer from PTSD are twice as likely as veterans without PTSD to develop AD or other age-related dementias.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.