Two areas of research have converged this week as researchers are now saying that [medical] marijuana appears to benefit Alzheimer’s patients. This could be tremendous news as Alzheimer’s disease is the only one in the top 10 causes of death that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed. Therefore, any new discoveries which shows benefit to research patients could be monumental.
Lead study author Professor David Schubert comments, “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.”
In this research, the scientists found that higher levels of amyloid beta plaque, in the brain, is associated with cellular inflammation and, accordingly, higher rates of neuron death. The study showed that exposing affected cells to THC could, in fact, reduce amyloid beta protein levels and, in the process, eliminated the inflammatory response from these nerve cells that are caused by the amyloid proteins.
This, the researchers say, allows the nerve cells to survive (instead of degrade, resulting in Alzheimer’s).
Study co-author Antonio Currais adds, “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.” The postdoctoral researcher in Schubert’s laboratory also goes on to say, “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.”
Similarly, research also shows that neural cells have switches—known as receptors—which can be activated by endocannabinoids. This is a particular class of lipid molecules made by the body for use in intercellular signaling within the brain. Studies show that the psychoactive effects of marijuana—brought upon through metabolism of THC—is similar in activity to endocannabinoids which can activate the very same receptors. Furthermore, they say that physical results can also increase production of these endocannabinoids, to also activate the very same receptors. As such, then, the study also shows that physical activity could help to produce more endocannabinoids and also slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.