September 14, 2016
Can Cannabis Slow the Development of Alzheimer's Disease?
Cognitive degeneration is pretty much unavoidable as we age, and Alzheimer’s disease falls under that umbrella. The good news is that studies are showing cannabis can stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, which may lead to longer, richer lives for millions.
Another study is adding evidence to the case for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease with the compounds in cannabis.
Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease this September “strongly suggest that THC [the main active ingredient in marijuana] could be a potential therapeutic treatment option for Alzheimer’s disease through multiple functions and pathways.”
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s today. One in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the nation, costing America about $203 billion in 2013.
Chuanhai Cao and other researchers at the University of South Florida and Thomas Jefferson University wanted to investigate the “potential therapeutic qualities of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with respect to slowing or halting the hallmark characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease.”
So they treated Alzheimer’s research cells (N2a-variant amyloid-β protein precursor (AβPP) cells) with THC and examined them for amyloid-β at the 6, 24, and 48-hour time markers. Amyloid-β is a type of protein that is linked to Alzheimer’s symptoms. The researchers found THC “to be effective at lowering Aβ levels … in a dose-dependent manner.”
The main active ingredient in pot “directly interacts” with amyloid-β, “thereby inhibiting aggression”. THC was also effective at lowering other key Alzheimer’s Disease markers. Furthermore “no toxicity” was observed from the THC. The researchers also found THC “enhances” the function of the cell’s energy factories — the mitochondria.
“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,” stated study lead author Chuanhai Cao, PhD and a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy.
“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.”
Other research in the same journal that month indicates THC boosts the body’s natural anti-Alzheimer’s fighting mechanism — the endocannabinoid system.
Alzheimer’s Disease is thought to result from a lifetime of brain inflammation. Cannabis is one of the most safe anti-inflammatories in medicine. Some neuroscientists believe a bout of pot smoking in early adulthood may prevent Alzheimer’s onset later in life. Cannabis slows brain aging, Time reported in 2012.
Smoking, vaping, or eating the pot molecules THC and CBD directly effects nerve cell function, reducing chronic brain inflammation, oxidative stress, and cellular dysfunction — all the while promoting stability of the human body’s internal environment (homeostasis) and healthy brain cells (neurotrophic support), studies show.
“What we found was that not only did the single puff a day reverse the memory impairment but also restarted neurogenesis,” Ohio State University, Gary Wenk told the Seattle Post Intelligencer this year.
Other studies have shown THC inhibits other key pathological markers of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The U.S. government has patented marijuana molecule CBD as a neuroprotectant, evan as it maintains that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse. The federal drug war is blocking deeper research into cannabis’ impacts on brain disease, Wenk states.
A paper published by the British Journal of Pharmacology suggests that the chemical compounds in marijuana likely prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and age-related dementia.
Chronic brain inflammation, oxidative stress, and intra-cellular dysfunction are the primary reasons why people develop these debilitating neurological diseases. The study found that both THC and CBD (the primary chemical compounds found in marijuana) positively affect nerve cell function in consumers, significantly reducing these harmful neurological conditions.
THC and CBD (called cannabinoids) tap into a primal, chemical signaling system in cells called “the endocannabinoid system.” The paper shows cannabinoids dampen inflammation, protect cells from oxidative damage, and promote cell health on a number of levels.
This paper echoes claims made in January by Gary Wenk, professor of neuroscience, immunology, and medical genetics at Ohio State University, that “if you do anything, such as smoke a bunch of marijuana in your 20s and 30s, you may wipe out all of the inflammation in your brain and then things start over again. And you simply die of old age before inflammation becomes an issue for you.”
Other Research on Marijuana and Alzheimer’s Disease:
You might be surprised to learn that this is not the first study to show a link between cannabinoid compounds and reduced damage from beta-amyloid protein. Researchers have been looking at this relationship for over a decade.
Italian scientists noted in the Journal of Neurochemistry (April, 2004) that one component of Cannabis sativa (marijuana) could protect nerve cells from the toxicity of beta amyloid.
In the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics (Nov-Dec, 2006) an articled titled “A Molecular Link Between the Active Component of Marijuana and Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology” suggested that:
“…our results provide a mechanism whereby the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer’s disease pathology…thereby simultaneously treating both the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Sadly, there are few convincing clinical trials to suggest that marijuana can slow deterioration from Alzheimer’s disease. As Dr. Schubert laments above, such large-scale trials would need to be funded by the government and so far there has not been much interest in doing so.
We wish there were more and better data on marijuana and Alzheimer’s disease. Until someone decides to fund such research we are left with some tantalizing, but preliminary data to suggest there might be a positive outcome.