Small regular doses of marijuana have the power to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a new study.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in August, found that low doses of THC reduced production of amyloid beta molecules and prevented abnormal accumulations of them. Such accumulations are one of the first signs of dementia.
“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist and lead author of the study. “Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future.”
In addition, scientists discovered that THC could improve mitochondrial function, which provides energy, facilitates the transmission of chemical signals, and helps maintain a healthy brain.
THC is the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana. It’s also the reason users get high: When THC binds with cannabinoid receptors in the brain, it produces a feeling of euphoria.
“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” Cao said.
The researchers said they didn’t intend to argue for or against cannabis as a medical treatment. But they said it holds great promise for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
“Are we advocating that people use illicit drugs to prevent the disease? No,” said co-author Neel Nabar. “However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Alzheimer’s, a form of irreversible dementia found mostly in patients over the age of 65, afflicts as many as 5 million Americans. That number is expected to triple in 36 years.
This isn’t the first discovery to highlight weed as a treatment for the disorder. Earlier this year a scientist said his research found marijuana might prevent Alzheimer’s if smoked regularly through early adulthood.
A study published in 2006 said THC “could be considerably better at suppressing the abnormal clumping of malformed proteins that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease than any currently approved prescription.”
Other studies have shown weed is good for treating a wide array of other serious illnesses, from cancer and multiple sclerosis to ALS and AIDS. Twenty-three states now allow medical marijuana, with more likely to come.