A new study suggests that chemicals found in marijuana could defend against Alzheimer's disease.
You have probably heard warnings that marijuana can mess with your brain, but a recent study suggests that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in pot, can help cells in the brain remove a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. According to a report from the Huffington Post, scientists have shown that THC, in addition to other compounds found in the plant, promote the removal of the protein amyloid beta in the brain’s cells.
It’s still too early for doctors to start recommending pot for your long-term health, but the recent study suggests that it could be useful in treating the inflammation of brain cells in Alzheimer’s patients. The findings could one day lead to a targeted medicine that could effectively prevent the buildup of toxic proteins in the brain.
According to professor David Schubert, a Salk professor and the study’s senior author, “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”
The study was published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, and offers new insights into how the brain responds to the buildup of proteins, which form plaque that interrupts neural connections in Alzheimer’s patients. The study marks the first time researchers were able to promote the removal of these proteins in the brain, and offers a new path of research toward a treatment that tackles this buildup.
The researchers studied nerve cells that were altered to produce high amounts of amyloid beta to mimic a cell in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient. When the cells were exposed to THC, amyloid beta protein levels dropped significantly and the nerve cells ceased being inflamed as a result.
“Inflammation 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 the brain, not the nerve cells themselves,” said co-author Antonio Currais. “When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying.”
A press release from the Salk Institute describing the details of the study can be found here.