Medical Marijuana May Offer Neuroprotective Properties

The active compound in marijuana, known as THC, has been found to support the removal of amyloid-beta. These toxic clumps are believed to contribute to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s. This recent study further supports prior research regarding the potential neuroprotective effect of cannabinoids.

Recent Study Further Supports the Potential Benefit of Cannabinoids

In recent years, medical marijuana has been extensively studied based on its potential to better treat a wide range of conditions, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Although numerous studies have found that cannabinoids may be neuroprotective, this 2016 study was the first to demonstrate the effect of cannabinoids on both amyloid-beta and inflammation.

To demonstrate the effect of THC, the researchers grew human neurons that mimic those impacted by Alzheimer’s. This compound typically works by passing from the lungs to the bloodstream. It can then attach to two types of receptors naturally found in the body — cannabinoid receptor 1 and 2.

Although these receptors are found in high concentrations in the brain, they are also found on cell surfaces throughout the entire human body. The neurons in the brain most associated with these receptors include those that impact memory, pleasure, coordination, thinking and time perception.

Since amyloid-beta causes a toxic inflammatory response, this eventually leads to cell death. It is believed that cannabinoids, including THC, are able to stimulate the removal of amyloid-beta, blocking the resulting inflammatory response. Although this response is complex, the researchers concluded that THC offers a protective effect.

The next step will be to test the link impact that THC has on inflammation and plaque build-up in a clinical trial. They have already found a possible drug candidate, known as J147, which appears to have the same effect as THC. As the legal system continues to change with regard to marijuana use in the United States, future studies will be easier to complete.

The Impact of Medical Marijuana on Alzheimer’s

Used for thousands of years, marijuana has been shown to alleviate symptoms of various diseases. However, due to a lack of long-term studies, its usage in the medical community is still fairly controversial.

Over the past two decades or so, there has been a tremendous amount of research collected on the endocannabinoid system. This system includes endogenous ligands, cannabinoid receptors, and several enzymes. By studying cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, this led to the discovery of endocannabinoids.

These are the cannabinoids that are produced and the released by nerve cells. Due to the way in which they are synthesized and released, endocannabinoids act as neurotransmitters which two key characteristics that differentiate them from other neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine.

  • They act as retrograde messengers

  • They do not accumulate in synaptic vesicles

What is really interesting is that when neuronal damage occurs, this has been shown to increase the production of endocannabinoids. In turn, this may act as a natural defense mechanism against potential toxicity. This led to numerous in vitro and in vivo studies that demonstrate the neuroprotective effect of cannabinoid compounds.

Another beneficial compound, known as CBD (which is often used to help calm tremors in Parkinson’s patients), has also showcased protective properties. In fact, CBD is believed to improve the survival of neuronal cultures exposed to amyloid-beta.

Why Some Researchers Believe That Patients Should Replace Alcohol with Marijuana

Alcohol has been shown to act as a potentially preventable risk factor regarding the development of dementia, including early onset. Although heavy alcohol consumption (4-5 drinks daily) is known to increase neuronal damage, medical marijuana could potentially curb binge drinking.

In one study, published in the Harm Reduction Journal, it was found that patients using medical marijuana do so as an alternative to alcohol, illegal drugs, and prescription drugs. Overall, it was reported that 75.5 percent of respondents substituted medical marijuana for at least one other substance.

While alcohol has been shown to reduce levels of gray and white matter tissue, marijuana does not appear to cause any long-term structural changes. Of course, more research is required at this time to better understand the true long-term effects of medical marijuana. At this point, medical marijuana is still an experimental treatment. However, when used moderately, cannabinoids appear to be well-tolerated.

Are You At Risk?

Since Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are so complex, it is important to discuss your symptoms and personal circumstances with a physician. To better address any potential warning signs, you can also benefit from BrainTest®. This assessment will help you detect cognitive impairments which you can track across time. Take your first test for free today.

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

Comments (1)
  1. Romit Malhotra

    Thanks for sharing this information, A study initiated by leading companies deals in the field of medicinal cannabis research, has revealed that Δ9-THCA can prove to be a promising treatment for neuroinflammatory diseases.

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