LONDON, March 7 /PRNewswire/ -- Cannabis-derived medicines may one day be used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease which affects 417,000 people in the UK.

Professor Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, will present new findings to a group of international experts at a Cannabinoids Medicines Symposium to be held at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) in London on Monday, 10 March. The research, still at an early stage, indicates that memory loss, the main symptom of Alzheimer's, can be slowed down significantly in mice by some of the chemicals present in cannabis. The next step will be to initiate human trials to see if the same effect can be achieved on the human brain.

The research is promising for the millions of suffers of the disease and their carers. Alzheimer's disease is the commonest form of dementia, which affects an estimated 24.3 million people worldwide.

It is ten years since the RPSGB launched its protocols to demonstrate the therapeutic effectiveness of cannabis. These protocols led to the Government funded UK trials that looked at the medicinal benefits of cannabis for patients with multiple sclerosis and in the treatment of severe pain. Cannabis-derived medicines have subsequently entered the market and are currently available to patients in Canada.

Professor Tony Moffat, who is chairing the Symposium on Monday said: "We have come a long way in ten years and there is still a lot of research ground to cover. There is currently considerable interest in the medical benefits of cannabis and related compounds for a range of conditions including arthritis, multiple sclerosis and neurological pain. Although recent press coverage has focused on the abuses associated with the plant, cannabis-derived medications may offer novel opportunities in drug discovery."

The research was conducted by Professor Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and a team led by Dr Maria de Ceballos, Cajal Institute, Madrid. In the studies, mice were injected directly into the brain with a molecule found in the human brain of patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease, which is known to be responsible for memory loss. These animals were then treated over a week with cannabidiol. The animals were then assessed as to their learning ability measured by the time needed for them to find a hidden platform in a maze. Mice injected with cannabidiol found the platform within 25-30 seconds, compared to 45-55 seconds of those in a control group who had not been treated with cannabidiol.

UK statistics on Alzheimer's disease

- Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia

- The disease affects around 417,000 people in the UK

Alzheimer's Society

Source: Worldwide Statistics on dementia

- Approximately 24.3 million people suffer with dementia

- 4.6 million new cases of dementia are reported every year which equates to one new case every 7 seconds

- The number of people affected with dementia will double every 20 years to 81-1 million by 2040

Source: The Lancet 2005; 366:2112-2117

People in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease may experience lapses of memory and have problems finding the right words. As the disease progresses they may:

- Become confused, and frequently forget the names of people, places, appointments and recent events

- Experience mood swings. They may feel sad or angry. They may feel scared and frustrated by their increasing memory loss

- Become more withdrawn due either to a loss of confidence or to communication problems

Source: Alzheimer's Society: