If you were a pothead in high school, chances are some memories might slip your mind these days. That’s because research has shown that heavy marijuana use could result in memory impairment later on down the road.
But this doesn’t always seem to be the case. Now, researchers think that the list of chronic diseases that cannabis helps, such as cancer, seizures, nausea, and pain, could be expanded to Alzheimer’s and brain aging. New research out of the University of South Florida has found that very low levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, were able to reduce the amount of amyloid beta in the brain. Amyloid beta is one of the factors that leads up to Alzheimer’s, and researchers are attempting to create drugs that could help stop the production of this protein.
“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” said Chuanhai Cao, author of the study and a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, in a press release. “Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future.”
Of course, there have been studies that showed that smoking marijuana — especially at a young age — could impair memory later on down the road. But the researchers in this particular study found that the therapeutic aspects of THC overcame the so-called risks of THC toxicity and memory impairment.
Earlier studies found that activating the brain’s cannabinoid system through THC had antioxidant properties, cleaning the brain out in a way by removing damaged cells and improving mitochondria activities. Overall, researchers concluded that marijuana — certain compounds, distributed in particular levels, at least — could have an overall positive effect on the brain.
“[C]annabinoid system activity is neuroprotective,” Andras Bilkei-Gorzo of the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn, who authored a 2012 study about marijuana reducing brain aging, wrote. Boosting this cannabinoid system in the brain could possibly “be a promising strategy for slowing down the progression of brain aging and for alleviating the symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders.”
But before you pick up a heavy marijuana habit, remember that plenty more research will be needed before scientists can come to a proper conclusion. “While we are still far from a consensus, this study indicates that THC and THC-related compounds may be of therapeutic value in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Neel Nabar, co-author of the study, in the release. “Are we advocating that people use illicit drugs to prevent the disease? No. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn’t mean it can be safely used by anyone. However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”