Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia brought on by aging, affecting over five million Americans. No one knows what causes it and treating it has been difficult to say the least, but recent research points to the chemical compounds in marijuana as a possible avenue to be explored.
A study published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease found that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana could reduce beta-amyloid levels in neurons (nerve cells) in the brain. Beta-amyloids are sticky proteins that can form plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. These seem to disrupt communication between neurons and cause inflammation, which then leads to neuron death and subsequent impaired brain function.
In this study, neurons were created in a lab and were modified to create beta-amyloids. The researchers observed the inflammation and nerve cell death caused by the protein, but when they applied THC to those cells, they found that the inflammatory response was eliminated and cells stayed alive. Previous studies have been done that show how cannabinoids might protect the brain, and this study helps bolster those results.
Alzheimer’s is a leading cause of death in the United States, and in an aging population, its prevalence rates are likely to increase. It affects the parts of the brain that control language, thought, and memory. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s start with a little memory loss but can progress to the point where conversing, responding to one’s environment, and carrying out daily activities is impaired or even impossible.
But despite how promising this might all sound, a couple of things need to be kept in mind. First of all, this was an in vitro study; that is, a test-tube/petri-dish study. There’s no way to know right now whether an actual human brain will respond in the same way; clinical trials are needed. Secondly, it’s known that marijuana use can lead to impaired memory, so how effective it might be in treating Alzheimer’s, a disease that itself has detrimental effects on memory and brain function in an aging population, remains to be seen.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Schubert, D., et al., “Amyloid Proteotoxicity Initiates an Inflammatory Response Blocked by Cannabinoids,” Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, 2016; doi:10.1038/npjamd.2016.12.
Whiteman, H., “Marijuana Compound Removes Alzheimer’s-Related Protein from Nerve Cells,” Medical News Today web site, June 30, 2016; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/311347.php, last accessed July 4, 2016.
“Marijuana Compound Removes Toxic Alzheimer’s Protein from the Brain,” Science Alert web site, June 30, 2016; http://www.sciencealert.com/marijuana-compound-removes-toxic-alzheimer-s-protein-from-the-brain, last accessed July 4, 2016.
Dvorsky, G., “Marijuana Shown to Protect Brain Cells from Alzheimer’s,” Gizmodo web site, June 30, 2016; http://gizmodo.com/marijuana-shown-to-protect-brain-cells-from-alzheimer-s-1782895116, last accessed July 4, 2016.
“Alzheimer’s Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site; http://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm, last accessed July 4, 2016.