Worried about losing your memory? Forget it! When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, the news for baby-booming hippies—especially the 420-friendly ones— sounds pretty good. In the wake of the tsunami of new discoveries into the medicinal and meditative properties of medical marijuana, studies have indicated marijuana may hold even more benefits for the brain, especially as it pertains to memory; specifically, Alzheimer’s.
While many jokingly laugh at the sometimes short-term memory loss associated with marijuana usage, for people with Alzheimer’s, memory loss is much more than not remembering what you were just talking about but literally forgetting whoyou are talking to. This fight is against permanent memory loss and studies are being conducted that show marijuana could potentially play a big part in its prevention.
Controlled Laboratory Studies
One institution at the forefront of this war is the prestigious Scripps Research Institute whose laboratories conducted studies on tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), with results that show serious promise in the battle against the disease that erases life.
The Scripps study revealed that THC inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which tends to act as a molecular escort in accelerating the formation of amyloid plaque in the brain of Alzheimer’s victims by reducing acetylcholine. Research has shown that levels of acetylcholine are exceptionally low in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Understandably, not all researchers agree as to whether or not the presence of beta-amyloid plaques in the areas of the brain that are crucial to cognition and memory is a cause or merely a symptom, nonetheless, their presence remains a hallmark of the disease.
The Scripps study titled “A Molecular Link Between the Active Component of Marijuana and Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology” was supported by the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research at the National Institutes of Health.
While the exact causes of Alzheimer’s disease aren’t fully known, there is much we do know. For decades, extensive research—both neurobiological and biochemical—has led to discoveries that may provide therapeutic strategies that will effectively stop or perhaps significantly slow down the progression of the disease, which would be incredibly good news for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports about 4.5 million Americans currently suffer from this disease with that figure expected to rise to a frightening 16 million by the year 2050. Additionally, in a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, it was learned that about one-half of all nursing home residents suffered from Alzheimer’s disease or a related malady. Furthermore, the National Institute on Aging concluded that the cost of caring for Alzheimer’s patients in America currently exceeds $100 billion annually. Any help in reducing those respective numbers would be of tremendous benefit to the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients, their families and the economic burden that treatment of this disease causes them.
The effectiveness of the plaque-inhibiting properties of THC appears quite promising in the fight against Alzheimer’s. According to Dr. Kim Janda, (Ely Callaway, Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Scripps Research), “In a test against Propidium, one of the most effective inhibitors reported to date, THC blocked AChE-induced aggregation completely, while the Propidium did not.” The cholinergic system inside the brain uses acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter and appears it is most affected by Alzheimer’s. Stunningly, the study showed that THC is a “considerably superior inhibitor of (amyloid plaque) aggregation” when compared with four currently approved drugs for treating the disease.
THC vs. Traditional Drugs
The drugs currently used in Alzheimer’s treatment work by inhibiting the active site of acetyl cholinesterase, the enzyme known to degrade acetylcholine. Propidium, one of the most effective inhibitors used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, pales in comparison to the effectiveness of THC’s plaque-inhibiting ability. The results of the study showed that THC blocked AChE-induced aggregation completely, while Propidium did not.
Moreover, Dr. Janda went on to say, “When we investigated the power of THC to inhibit the aggregation of beta-amyloid, we found that THC was considerably more effective than two of the approved drugs for Alzheimer’s disease treatment (Donepezil and Tacrine), which reduced amyloid aggregation by 22 and seven per cent respectively while at twice the concentration used in our studies.”
The professor concluded, “While our study is far from final, it does show there is a previously unrecognized mechanism through which THC may directly affect the progression. While we certainly are not advocating the use of illegal drugs, these findings offer convincing evidence that THC possesses remarkable inhibitor qualities, especially when compared with AChE inhibitors currently available to patients. Our results are conclusive enough to warrant further investigation.”
While currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there is hope offered by the results of studies such as this one performed by Scripps. Meanwhile, we can all be hopeful a permanent cure will soon be discovered. It would be ironic indeed if that ol’ devil weed, so often blamed for short-term memory loss, actually played a key role in the discovery of a cure against permanent memory loss.