The main psychoactive component in marijuana that gets smokers high may work to actually reverse memory loss and general cognitive decline in seniors.
Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany led a study examining the effects of marijuana extracts on the cognitive functioning of mice. The study suggests that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may halt and even roll back the aging process by boosting the presence of cannabinoids in the brain, which naturally decline as the brain ages. The steady reduction of endocannabinoids in the brain as it ages is linked to cognitive decline, reports Forbes.
The study’s authors gave low doses of THC to mice aged two months, one year, and 18 months over the course of 30 days. While THC impaired cognitive functioning in the younger mice, it boosted it in the older sample to the point where the brain tissue of the mice actually resembled the brains of the younger rodents.
“With increasing age, the quantity of the cannabinoids naturally formed in the brain reduces,” Professor Andreas Zimmer, lead author of the study said, according to Forbes. “When the activity of the cannabinoid system declines, we find rapid aging in the brain. It looked as though the THC treatment turned back the molecular clock.”
The THC treatment also produced increased nerve links in the brain’s of the older mice, which boosts the ability of the brain to learn and retain new information. The authors of the study note the need for more comprehensive studies into THC and its effects on the brain, specifically with human subjects.
Scientists in the U.S. attempting to study the effects of marijuana on human cognitive functioning often lament the roadblocks to research. The federal prohibition of marijuana is blocking medical experts from studying weed’s uses in treating Alzheimer’s Disease. The designation of marijuana as a Schedule I substance alongside deadly narcotics means that the U.S. government does not recognize any medicinal benefit to cannabis.
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California are finding early success in looking at marijuana extracts as a treatment for the debilitating condition, but their reliance on federal funding is creating problems.
Early research conducted on human neurons found that THC and other compounds in the plant help the body target amyloid beta, the toxic plaque protein linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. The protein causes inflammation and kills off neuron cells, causing the deterioration of a patient’s memory.
The researchers hope to learn how to target these proteins with marijuana compounds to prevent the disease from taking hold.
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