Could Cannabis Use Increase Vulnerability to Alzheimer’s?

Regular cannabis use may slow the blood flow to a user’s hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory, emotion and spatial recognition, a study from Dr. Daniel Amen’s clinic concluded last week. Researchers studied 26,268 patients from California, Washington, Virginia, New York and Georgia between 1995 and 2015, comparing the brain scans of one thousand marijuana users with non-users.

According to WBAL,

“The most predictive region distinguishing marijuana users from healthy controls, the hippocampus, is a key target of Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” the research claimed. “This study raises the possibility of deleterious brain effects of marijuana use.”

Amen Clinics use SPECT scans – single-photon emission computed tomography – imaging techniques that utilize gamma rays to take 3-D images of a patient’s brain. The scans recorded blood flow and activity patterns while patients completed tasks. The results were compared with 100 healthy controls.

“The problem with marijuana is that it’s not selective. Not only does it calm the parts of the brain that are overactive, it calms the entire brain—long-term—through a slow and insidious process,” Amen Clinic researcher Dr. Kabran Chapek said in a press release in 2014.

SPECT scans of the brains of regular marijuana users can be seen here.

However, Zach Walsh, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, told the Clinical Psychology Review that the drug could benefit patients with depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety.

“This is a substance that has potential use for mental health,” Walsh told the publication earlier this month. “We should be looking at it in the same way [as other drugs] and be holding it up to the same standard.”

Walsh and his colleagues examined all studies surrounding the substance and mental health.”There is currently not a lot of clear guidance on how mental health professionals can best work with people who are using cannabis for medical purposes,” he explained. “With the end of prohibition, telling people to simply stop using may no longer be as feasible an option, so knowing how to consider cannabis in the treatment equation will become a necessity.”

To date, 25 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis use to some degree. Most recent laws legalizing cannabis use have been geared towards removing criminal penalties for users, and do not fully address workplace issues posed by medical cannabis.

Because state statutes pertaining to cannabis are generally very new, most have not yet been subjected to judicial interpretation. This means there is little (if any) guidance about what the statutes mean, much less any clear direction for employers struggling with whether—and, if so, how—their employment policies and practices should be modified to take into account the new statutes. Adding to the uncertainty for employers is that federal law continues to prohibit cannabis use, distribution, and possession for any reason.

At this year’s MACo Winter Conference, you can learn about potential liability and logistical issues due to the changing landscape of state medical cannabis laws, including the potential for accommodation requests and wrongful termination claims.

Here are more details:

Title: Cannabis in the Workplace: Clearing the Haze

Description: After years of working to establish drug-free workplaces, employers now face the possibility of legal drug users within their organizations. As long as it remains illegal under federal law, many employers remain committed to their drug-free policies and intend to continue testing applicants and employees for cannabis. Other employers may decide to modify their current policies based on changes in state law. With the numerous legal and policy considerations swirling around medical cannabis, employers and workers alike are seeking clarification. In this session, representatives from the public and private sectors will discuss the many liability and logistical issues due to the changing landscape of state medical cannabis laws, including the potential for accommodation requests and wrongful termination claims. Attend this session to hear more about what to expect in the near future and the best practices to protect your workplace and employees.


  • Shad Ewart, Professor, Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Emerging Markets: Marijuana Legalization, Anne Arundel Community College
  • William C. Tilburg, Deputy Director, Legal Resource Center for Public Policy, University of Maryland
  • Dr. Stephen Fisher, Medical Advisor to the CEO, Director of Health Services, Chesapeake Employers Insurance Company

Moderator: The Honorable William Valentine, Commissioner, Allegany County

Date/Time: Thursday, December 8, 2016; 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

The MACo Winter Conference will be held December  7-9, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “An Ounce of Prevention.”

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: