Medical Cannabis and Amyloidosis

Sarah Walker

by Sarah Walker

June 20, 2023 02:15 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 9 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho
Medical Cannabis and AmyloidosisAmyloidosis is a rare disease characterized by an accumulation of abnormal amyloid deposits throughout various body parts. Someone diagnosed with this medical condition may have misshapen clumps of amyloid proteins in one or several organs including the brain, heart, kidneys, and spleen. It is also possible for amyloidosis to occur in the trachea or bronchus, eye, or bladder – something known as localized amyloidosis (5). 

An estimated 4,000 people in the United States develop amyloid and light chain (AL) amyloidosis annually. In most cases, a diagnosis will be made between the ages of 50-65. Nonetheless, it is not unheard of for people in their 20’s to receive an AL amyloidosis diagnosis (7)

Amyloidosis treatment may vary depending on each patient’s individual case. Common treatment options include chemotherapy, and organ or stem cell transplants (8). A doctor might also prescribe medication to minimize amyloid production, complications, and control symptoms.

A handful of clinical trials have pinpointed cannabis’ ability to manage certain symptoms in people with amyloidosis, including anxiety, appetite loss, fatigue, and pain. However, the efficacy of cannabis-based treatments depends on how much amyloid has accumulated, symptom severity, and which organs are affected.

  1. The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Treating Amyloidosis 
  2. Amyloidosis: Can Cannabinoids Provide Relief?
  3. What Preparations of Cannabis are Best for Amyloidosis
  4. Talking to Your Doctor About These Types of Treatments
  5. Complementary Treatments Worth Discussing with Your Doctor
  6. Amyloidosis: What is it?
  7. Types of Amyloidosis

The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Treating Amyloidosis

Every human being has an endocannabinoid system (ECS) nestled inside their bodies. This complex biological system composes an expansive network of chemical signals and cellular receptors that are generously scattered around the brain and body. 

The ECS is considered a portion of the endocannabinoidome (eCBome). It is made up of endocannabinoids, which are fat-based neurotransmitters, and a variety of receptors including CB1 &CB2, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) (22). When medical cannabis is ingested, it binds to these receptors in various tissues in the body, which can increase or decrease the levels of endocannabinoids. The ECS is responsible for pain perception, modulating the immune system, and other operations the body needs to function optimally.

When patients with amyloidosis and other amyloid-related diseases ingest medical cannabis, it can have the ability to protect some tissues from amyloid toxicity. Doctors have found that cannabis can protect against amyloid-related inflammation as well as protect the brain as a neuroprotective (18). This neuroprotective process works through the ECS by the activation of the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARy). This pathway reduces cellular death and decreases the levels of amyloid precursor proteins (AAP). 

Medical cannabis may also help patients with a variety of symptoms they may experience as a result of amyloidosis, including:

Amyloidosis: Can Cannabinoids Provide Relief?

There are several studies promoting the positive benefits of medical cannabis use for amyloidosis. Interestingly, this research often involves Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (20). Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyloidosis all involve amyloid protein buildup in the brain. 

Cannabis’ primary psychoactive cannabinoid Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been proven to help reverse the buildup of harmful amyloid plaques inside the brain. Based on the findings of a 2016 study carried out by the Salk Institute, THC was shown to remove the plaque-forming proteins that contribute to brain cell death (neurodegeneration) (16). 

Research also points to the potential of integrating the non-psychotropic cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) into health and wellness routines for therapeutic relief of amyloid buildup (15). This process occurs through the activation of the cannabinoid CB2 receptor and PPARy receptors (18). 

In addition to cannabinoids, terpenes found in medical marijuana have positive effects regarding amyloid buildup. Terpenes are responsible for smells produced by many different plants and are found in essential oils. 

A 2022 study examined the effects of the terpenes myrcene, β-caryophyllene, and α-bisabolol (27). These terpenes are typically known for antioxidant effects in the body. An antioxidant inhibits oxidation, or deterioration of cells in the body. It helps protect against inflammation and the development of amyloids. 

The researchers of this study discovered α-bisabolol and β-caryophyllene protect the sample cells against amyloid aggregation (clumping), which increased the viability of the cells (27). α-bisabolol had the greatest effect was found to have the strongest effect compared to the other tested terepenes. Both α-bisabolol and β-caryophyllene can be found in several medical cannabis strains (24). 

What Preparations of Cannabis are Best for Amyloidosis?

The use of medical marijuana doesn’t have to involve smoking. One of the main appeals associated with medical cannabis consumption is the diversity in terms of product options. Various cannabis preparations are available for people with amyloidosis, such as:

  • Edibles 
  • Pills, capsules, and tablets
  • Powder cannabis 
  • Transdermal patches 
  • Vapes 
  • Tinctures

Different strains of medical marijuana have been reported to successfully reduce certain symptoms of amyloidosis, such as pain and inflammation. Indica-dominant strains work best for pain relief, whereas sativa-dominant strains are recommended for fighting fatigue.

Full-spectrum products have enhanced medical benefits because cannabinoids and terpenes work together, resulting in the entourage effect. CBD products are also worth considering for amyloidosis in addition to full-spectrum cannabis products due to the positive research regarding CBD and reducing amyloid formation. 

Talking to Your Doctor About These Types of Treatments

To better understand the type of amyloidosis you are dealing with, your doctor or healthcare practitioner may conduct tests. After a diagnosis, you can discuss the medical uses of cannabis-based treatment options with a doctor. However, it’s important to note that cannabis should not be used as a substitute for other types of doctor-prescribed medications and treatment plans.

Your doctor will likely carry out thyroid & kidney function tests, take a tissue sample (biopsy) from the affected organs, and request imaging tests. Examples of recommended imaging tests for amyloidosis diagnosis include an echocardiogram, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear imaging (6). Blood tests and urine tests may also be scheduled to test for abnormal protein levels.

Complementary Treatments Worth Discussing with Your Doctor 

Some alternative therapies can benefit people with amyloidosis by treating the symptoms related to the disease, such as Tai Chi, yoga, weight training, walking programs, low-salt diets, sleep therapy, diuretics, and dietary changes (1). 

Research published in the journal Neurotherapeutics discovered that the polyphenols in green tea may successfully inhibit amyloid protein aggregation and deposition when consumed in high quantities (12). 

You might even consider trying CBD or THC-infused medical cannabis oil tinctures to ease some symptoms of amyloidosis. Cannabinoids can be absorbed by the skin using infused balms, salves, and lotion, too. 

Complementary medicine should be adopted alongside traditional Western medicine prescribed by your doctor. If you or a loved one is considering using an FDA-approved medical cannabis product to improve the symptoms of amyloidosis, it’s important that you continue using any medications and treatments that are prescribed by your doctor.

Amyloidosis: What is it?

Amyloidosis is rare and occurs when a protein called amyloid is overproduced and builds up in the organs of patients (8). There are several different types of amyloids in the body. Some types of amyloids are beneficial and play a role in long-term memory formation or gradually release stored peptide hormones in the body (4). 

In patients with amyloidosis, an abnormal buildup of pathogenic amyloids occur, causing problems in the organs of affected patients as these buildups are toxic (13). As amyloid levels rise throughout the body, such as in the muscle tissue and blood vessels, the heart may struggle to pump properly. There are many possible symptoms and complications caused by the increased blood viscosity.

The symptoms of amyloidosis depend on what type of amyloidosis the patient is diagnosed with. Some symptoms and complications of amyloidosis include (13):

  • Kidney problems & kidney failure (3)
  • High blood pressure (3)
  • Anemia (3)
  • Severe ankle & leg swelling (3)
  • Heart failure 
  • Neuropathy 
  • Discolored skin caused by bruising called ecchymosis 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Nervous system malfunctioning issues causing issues with movement, memory, or thoughts 

Types of Amyloidosis

There are several different causes of amyloidosis such as having autoimmune or inflammatory diseases, being on long term dialysis for kidney disease, and inheriting certain genes (8). The types of amyloidosis are discussed below.

AL Amyloidosis

Also known as immunoglobulin light chain amyloidosis, or primary amyloidosis, this is the most common form of amyloidosis (8). It typically affects the heart, kidneys, liver, and nerves of patients who have it. AL amyloidosis occurs when plasma cells – a type of white blood cell – in the bone marrow become mutated and start producing too much protein (9). This mutation is referred to as dyscrasia.

Plasma cells are responsible for creating antibodies with heavy-chain and light-chain proteins. Plasma cells produce excess light chain proteins when they undergo dyscrasia. In such cases, the light chain proteins travel through the bloodstream, causing AL amyloidosis (9). 

Patients with pre-diagnosed or underlying medical conditions characterized by inflammation – such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – may find their disease worsens due to AL amyloidosis (2).  

Research from 2021 indicates that 10-15% of people with multiple myeloma (myeloma) develop light-chain AL amyloidosis (28). In addition to this, people who suffer from a bone marrow illness called “Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia” face an increased risk of developing AL amyloidosis.

AA Amyloidosis

AA Amyloidosis is also known as secondary amyloidosis. This is because it is triggered by an inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis (8). It affects the kidney, spleen, and liver of patients. 

Hereditary Amyloidosis

Also known as familial amyloidosis, this type is an inherited disorder. It often occurs when a liver-produced protein called transthyretin (TTR) is abnormal (8). Hereditary amyloidosis typically affects the heart, kidneys, and nerves of patients who have it. Sometimes it is called transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR).

Localized Amyloidosis

This type of amyloidosis typically affects only one body system of the patient. Because of this, localized amyloidosis has a better prognosis than other types. Some locations of this type of amyloidosis include the skin, lungs, and bladder (8).

Wild-Type Amyloidosis

Also known as senile systemic amyloidosis, this type commonly affects men over the age of 70. It often targets the heart and can also cause carpal tunnel syndrome (8). Wild-type amyloidosis occurs when liver production of TTR is normal, but amyloids are still being formed.

Note: Veriheal does not intend to give this as professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose, or prescribe treatment based on the information provided on this page. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

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