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Posted on: May 30, 2019 at 8:57 pm
Last updated: October 9, 2019 at 9:55 am

By now we’re sure you have heard about a special little compound known as THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC )is what’s responsible for the majority of marijuana’s psychological effects.

Time and time again, THC is proving to be a powerful compound. This active component is well known for providing pain relief, making it useful in many conditions. Cannabis is used many provide relief from the symptoms and discomforts associated with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stroke recovery, HIV, and chemotherapy. As research unfolds, we are now finding that THC may be beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease.

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While various studies have provided evidence that cannabinoids may have neuroprotective properties. A 2016 study by the Salk Institute may have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease (1).

David Schubert from the Salk Institute says that while “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 human body was built with natural cannabinoid receptors, and while the body produces its own endocannabinoids, exogenous (from outside) cannabinoids can also influence the body’s endocannabinoid system to release antioxidants which help to repair cell damage (2).

THC interacts with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are found throughout the body. In the brain, cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in neurons that are associated with memory, coordination, thinking, pleasure and time perception. Since THC can also interact with these communication pathways, after using cannabis you may forget how to do something, laugh about it, feel amazing and then go look for some snacks.

Earlier research has suggested that THC may provide positive effects for the aging brain, even helping to slow the formation of beta-amyloid plaques (3). While we’re not entirely sure how Alzheimer’s is manifested, it is related to a build up of two types of lesions. One form of lesion is known as amyloid plaque (beta amyloid), the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, and the second are neurofibrillary tangles (tau proteins).

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While there’s no definitive answer as to why these lesions appear, chronic inflammation doesn’t benefit plaques or neurofibrillary tangles, infact inflammation seems to proliferate the condition (4).

“Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” says one of the team members at the Salk Institute.

Discovering that THC may be involved in protecting neurons from dying in addition to supporting the cellular removal of amyloid beta, is no small feat. This is why the institute is looking to perform tested clinical trials (1). Since initial evidence in 2016, the Salk Institute was moving towards testing with mice, which could then move to humans. However do to legalities surrounding marijuana and clinical testing, it has yet to move forward (5). Their goal was to begin testing by 2017, but this has yet to come into fruition. However, with current policy changes happening in the US this may become much easier. This preliminary evidence is just too great to ignore, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for the future.

  1. Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160629095609.htm
  2. Endocannabinoids in Nervous System Health and Disease https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rstb.2012.0313
  3. A Molecular Link Between the Active Component of Marijuana and Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562334/

  4. Targeting inflammation ‘could help treat Alzheimer’s disease’ https://www.nhs.uk/news/neurology/targeting-inflammation-could-help-treat-alzheimers-disease/
  5. Big Alziemer’s Road Block: The Federal Government https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/09/major-buzz-kill-for-alzheimers-research-government-view-of-marijuana.html
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