Monday, May 8, 2017

Study: Cannabis Could Reverse Signs of Aging in the Brain

A study that was published this week in Nature Medicine suggests that THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis which is responsible for making the user feel “stoned” might have the potential to reverse some of the damage that aging causes to the brain. Researchers who were led by Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn in Germany conducted their study on mice at varying ages, administering low doses of THC to determine what sort of effects the cannabinoid has on learning, memory and cognitive functioning – and the results were pretty impressive.

Researchers used a total of 17 young mice around 2 months old, 24 mature mice which were one year old, and 29 mice that were considered elderly at 18 months of age and both were separated half as a control and half to be treated with THC. They measured the mice capabilities with a series of tests including recognition of mice they had previously been exposed to, and a test where they were placed in a pool of water with a hidden platform that would allow them to escape.

After being treated with THC mice in the mature and elderly groups outperformed the mice in the control group of the corresponding ages – in fact they performed almost as well as the young mice in the control group! The only mice whose performance was hindered by the introduction of THC was the young mice – which researchers had actually expected. While some researchers were astounded by the improvement in elderly mice it was actually expected by some who closely study the endocannabinoid system.

"Old animals remembered as well, learned almost as well, recognized almost as well as young ones," said neuroscientist Andras Bilkei-Gorzo of the University of Bonn. He is lead author of the study of THC's effect on memory, published in the journal Nature Medicine.

More interestingly, pictures of the mice brains after being treated with THC suggest that the treatment not only improved their memory and cognitive thinking skills, but it may have actually have reversed some of the typical signs of aging. Neurons in the hippocampus (area of the brain responsible for learning and critical thinking) in elderly treated mice had sprouted new synaptic spines (the point of contact between neurons) and looked much closer to the brains of the 2 month old control mice. 

From what researchers can understand so far, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for a lot of functions and keeping us healthy and “in working order” as it were. As we get older however, the receptors that respond to cannabinoids may diminish – and our bodies slow down the production of endocannabinoids which are necessary. However, with the introduction of external cannabinoids, like THC, we are able to stimulate and keep these receptors healthy and functioning properly

Similarly, the reason it affects younger individuals differently is likely because of the over stimulation of the CB receptors. Of courses, there is still far more to be learned before we can truly understand the entirety of the endocannabinoid system, or the even the cannabis plant itself – and even in the case of this study we still need more research to see if the affects are the same in humans as they are in mice.

Luckily the German researchers are already in the process of getting approval to start human trials of this experiment soon as this could be a way to reduce, prevent or even cure the affects of conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and other neurological conditions that tend to show up in our older age.

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