A new study suggests that medical marijuana pills are ineffective in treating the behavioral symptoms of dementia.

Scientists are currently studying if marijuana and its extracts can be used to treat different diseases and conditions such as HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, seizures, substance use disorders and mental disorders. Marijuana contains cannabinoids, chemicals related to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), also known as the mind-altering ingredient. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two medications in pill form based on this ingredient. The approved drugs, dronabinol and nabilone, are now being used to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and increase the appetite of patients with AIDS.

Researchers at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, the Netherlands conducted a study to assess if the medical marijuana pills can help relieve the behavioral symptoms of dementia, such as aggression, depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties and hallucinations.

Dementia patients with behavioral symptoms are currently being prescribed with antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs, which are known to increase their risk of stroke and death.

The study involved 50 participants diagnosed with dementia and behavioral symptoms. They were divided into two groups: one was given 1.5 milligrams of medical marijuana pills, while the other received placebo. They took the pills three times a day for three weeks. The researchers also assessed their behavioral symptoms by giving them a dementia questionnaire called Neuropsychiatric Inventory prior to the study and after the three-week study period for comparison.

The test scores showed no significant difference between those who took the medical marijuana pills and the placebo group. However, the study confirmed that the pills are safe to take with minor side effects.

"Since the side effects were mild to moderate, it's possible that a higher dose could be tolerated and could possibly be beneficial," Geke A.H. van den Elsen, study lead author from the university, said in a press release. "Future studies are needed to test this. A drug that can treat the behavioral symptoms of dementia is much needed, as about 62 percent of dementia patients in the general community and up to 80 percent of nursing home residents experience these symptoms."

The study was published in the May 13 issue of Neurology.