Compounds in marijuana can stave off the brain damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study by the prestigious Salk Institute in California.
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Institute researchers have shown that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can contribute to the removal of toxic proteins, known as amyloid beta, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
The research is still at an early stage, with the protective effects of marijuana observed in lab-grown neurons only; it's not yet known if the same process is applicable to living human beings.
Nevertheless, the research offers new insight into the role played by inflammation in the onset and development of the neurological disease, according to an article on the Gawker website.
Previous research has shown that compounds in marijuana, called cannabinoids, protect the brain from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The new study is “the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” as the study’s lead author David Schubert put it in a statement.
Scientists are fairly certain that these toxins contribute to the growth of damaging plaque deposits in the brain, but they’re not entirely sure about the precise role that’s played by amyloid beta in the process.
Schubert’s team studied nerve cells that were modified to produce high levels of amyloid beta. Left untreated, the cells were subject to inflammation and higher rates of death. But when the researchers exposed them to cannabinoids, the levels of the amyloid beta proteins were reduced, the inflammation disappeared and the neurons survived.
Scientists will need to perform clinical trials to find out whether the lab effect occurs in human beings. They will also need to consider the potential tradeoffs of using marijuana as a drug to stave of neurodegeneration.