Previous research has shown that marijuana may ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but a recent study shows that it may reduce the disease’s affects. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that a compound found in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (the main psychoactive chemical found in the plant), may reduce the accumulation of plaque forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells.
The toxic protein amyloid beta accumulates in nerve cells in the brain before Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed. To catch and eliminate these plaque deposits early could help prevent and even cure those with the disease.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a chemical that is produced by endocannibinoids (lipid molecules that activate the brain cells). The scientists studied its viability at preventing the death of nerve cells.
Senior author of the study and professor at Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory says,
Although other studies have offered evidence than cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate than cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.
The scientists used exploratory laboratory models to conduct their research. Using lab-grown nerve cells, they altered the nerve cells to produce high amounts of amyloid beta (plaque) to mimic Alzheimer’s. The elevated levels of this protein cause cellular inflammation and neuron death.
Antonio Currais, member of the research team at Salk says,
Inflamation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in he brain, not the newer cells themselves.
The team then exposed the cells to THC. They discovered that THC reduced the amyloid beta levels and reduced the inflammation. The cells were able to survive. Thus, the THC prevented the cells (neurons) from dying.
With over five million Americans, according to the U.S. Institute of Health, with Alzheimer’s, it is the leading causes of death of seniors. Though this study is preliminary, clinical trials will be next to verify the findings. This may be the big breakthrough toward curing this devastating progressive brain disease.