You know the pot-smoking stereotypes, but if you look past the jokes and movies, the science of cannabis is fascinating. Could the active ingredient found in marijuana reverse or prevent dementia?
Pot is both socially and politically taboo. Because it is also a controlled substance, it is nearly impossible to gain funding to study it.
Common sense would be to evaluate those who regularly use marijuana to determine long-term effects on brain function and total body health and compare them to non-marijuana users.
There is an unverified theory that regular pot smokers in the 60s and 70s are rarely diagnosed with dementia today – but since it remains illegal in most states, participants are reluctant to come forward.
That is why – despite mounting evidence that marijuana can be therapeutic if used in moderation – there are few opportunities for research. Additionally, the actual plant is not used during trials – which almost exclusively uses lab animals as subjects – but is a synthetic version created in a lab to mimic cannabis.
Dementia affects 5.2 million people and costs $200 billion annually in the U.S. alone.
Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases are a combination of inflammation and a buildup of amyloid plaque that results when proteins clump in certain areas of your brain.
These mutated cells then attack the brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is responsible for helping you learn new tasks and recalling prior events.
According to a recent article published in Molecular Pharmaceutics, synthetic THC – the primary component in marijuana – suppresses the plaque 75% more effectively than other pharmaceutical drugs currently being used to treat dementia.
There is no effective treatment for the most common neuro-degenerative diseases.
Recent studies have found that substances in cannabis may act as antioxidant detoxifiers that flush these protein clumps, and other damaged cells, from your brain.
Cannabis also boosts the activity of the mitochondria – the power source of cells – which may result in better brain function.
In 2008, a study found that a synthetic THC product measurably reduced inflammation and improved brain function – primarily in the hippocampus region which is responsible for memory – in test animals with dementia.
Scientists believe it is the cannabinoid properties [found in both natural and synthetic THC] that are neuro-protective – bonding to cannabinoid receptors that occur naturally in the brains of humans and animals.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is produced by your body – the cannabinoids in marijuana have been shown to boost the production of this substance. BDNF protects brain cells and stimulates new cell growth.
Cell growth is crucial to the treatment of neuro-degenerative disease since this process slows and even stops completely as we age.
Boosting your production of BDNF with THC compounds could inhibit the development of amyloid plaque and prevent dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association released a report on dementia’s far-reaching impact – socially and economically – and presented the shocking statistic that 1-in-3 senior citizens die with some form of dementia.
Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s speed overall health decline. Patients may die from other causes but there is a link to their neuro-degenerative disease.
A separate report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that in 2011, more than 80,000 people died from Alzheimer’s directly.
Over the next half century, experts estimate that the number of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will triple.
Every avenue of research needs to be explored – especially those that show legitimate, measurable improvement in brain function. Treating those suffering today and preventing dementia in future generations is as important as the research being done for heart disease and cancer.
Scientists caution that more research must be done to determine the right frequency and dosage because getting too much THC could worsen dementia symptoms.
Funding and the ability to conduct human trials are imperative to neuro-degenerative research.