Corporate Drugs Useless Against Alzheimer’s

Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca have been making $2 billion a year selling useless pills to Alzheimer’s patients (including almost a million Medicare “beneficiaries”). This is the bottom line of a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine that evaluated the effectiveness of Seroquel, Risperdal and Zyprexa, drugs known as “atypical antipsychotics,” which are routinely prescribed to Alzheimer’s patients. A group led by Lon Schneider, MD, at the University of Southern California School of Medicine found that 80% of Alzheimer’s patients they studied stopped taking the drugs before the trial ended due to ineffectiveness and side-effects.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, whose director, Thomas R. Insel, commented “We need to come up with better medications.” Indeed -more than 4.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Its environmental causes remain unknown (the fake food must factor in) and it is occurring with increasing frequency.

The rage associated with Alzheimer’s is one of the conditions for which Oregon doctors can authorize cannabis use. Perhaps Dr. Insel should fund a study of its efficacy there -it’s just a matter of collecting the data.

Paul Armentano of NORML has summarized the recent scientific literature on cannabinoid therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. It looks promising:

Writing in the February 2005 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, investigators at Madrid’s Complutense University and the Cajal Institute in Spain reported that administration of the synthetic cannabinoid WIN 55,212-2 directly to the brain prevented cognitive impairment and decreased neurotoxicity in rats injected with amyloid-beta peptide (a protein believed to induce Alzheimer’s). Other cannabinoids were also found to reduce the inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease in human brain tissue in culture. “Our results indicate that … cannabinoids succeed in preventing the neurodegenerative process occurring in the disease,” investigators concluded.

Investigators at The Scripps Research Institute in California have reported that THC inhibits the enzyme responsible for the aggregation of amyloid plaque -the primary marker for Alzheimer’s disease- in a manner “considerably superior” to approved drugs such as donepezil and tacrine.

“Our results provide a mechanism whereby the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” researchers concluded. “THC and its analogues may provide an improved therapeutic [option] for Alzheimer’s disease [by]… simultaneously treating both the symptoms and the progression of [the] disease.” Previous preclinical studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids can prevent cell death by anti-oxidation. Some experts believe that cannabinoids’ neuroprotective properties could also play a role in moderating Alzhemier’s.

Clinical trials also indicate that cannabinoid therapy can reduce agitation and stimulate weight gain Alzheimer’s patients. Investigators at Berlin ‘s Charite Universitatmedizin, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy have reported that the daily administration of 2.5 mg of synthetic THC over a two-week period reduced nocturnal motor activity and agitation in Alzheimer’s patients in an open-label pilot study.

Clinical data presented at the 2003 annual meeting of the International Psychogeriatric Association previously reported that the oral administration of up to 10 mg of synthetic THC reduced agitation and stimulated weight gain in late-stage Alzheimer’s patients in an open-label clinical trial. Weight gain and a decrease in negative feelings among Alzheimer’s patients administered cannabinoids had been reported by investigators in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 1997.

The U.S. now has a two-tier system of medical expertise; there are doctors who have educated themselves about the endocannabinoid system and the drugs that affect it, and doctors who have not. Unfortunately, the head of the National Institute of Mental Health is in the lower tier. A soon-to-be published survey of California doctors who have approved cannabis use by more than 100,000 patients asked, among other things, “What drugs has cannabis enabled your patients to discontinue or use less of?” All the respondents mentioned atypical antipsychotics. No wonder the pharmaceutical companies -and the corporations they interconnect with, i.e. petrochemicals, agribiz, banks- are committed to Prohibition.

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at:



Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at