If you or a loved one are worried about age-related memory loss, the answer might come from a surprising place. Marijuana, long thought to make people forgetful, might protect the brain from memory loss. Marijuana might even be the next powerful weapon against Alzheimer’s, which is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.

A study posted in Nature Medicine and led by Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn, Germany, showed the THC, the main cannabinoid ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high, significantly helped against cognitive decline in mice. Human trials are scheduled to be underway now.

The Study

Image CC0, by tiburi, via Pixabay

The mice weren’t getting high, exactly. Instead, researchers gave three groups of mice, low doses of THC. The first group was young, just two months old. The second, middle-aged, at 12-months-old, and the third, elderly, at 18 months. That’s about the human equivalent of 20, 58, and 64-years old.

The scientists used three experiments, including a water maze, locating a specific item, and partner recognition. In every trial, the middle-aged and elderly mice showed improved cognitive ability as compared to the control group, which didn’t consume THC. Surprisingly, the young mice didn’t show the same results. In fact, in at least one experiment, the young mice performed worse after taking THC.

The Results

Photo is a smiling, white, elderly man in a brown page boy hat.

Image CC by 2.0, by Marg, via Wikimedia

Not only did researchers seem improvement in the mice’s memory, but they also found that the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, emotion, and memory, functioned as if they were young adults.

“Chronic, low-dose treatment with THC or cannabis extracts could be a potential strategy to slow down or even reverse cognitive decline in the elderly,’ (Zimmer) said.

Together, these results reveal a profound, long-lasting improvement of cognitive performance resulting from a low dose of THC treatment in mature and old animals.”

Source: Daily Mail

Replicating the results on human beings might be difficult. Human life spans are much longer, and it could take years before scientists see results. Researchers also worry that for some, THC might have adverse effects.

Kids, don’t try this

One caveat to the study is that it doesn’t hold true for all ages. In the young mice, the THC inhibited brain function. THC interacts with the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for pain management, mood, appetite, and memory. It’s also responsible for the euphoric feeling after exercise. The endocannabinoid system is the brain’s cannabis. The endocannabinoid system naturally declines as people age. A further decline has been linked with Alzheimer’s.

The young mice in the experiment actually fared worse after THC. This may be because, in adults with a fully functional endocannabinoid system, the THC in marijuana binds to the cannabinoid receptors. In this case, too much of a good thing is too much. Younger people (and mice) experience mental and physical decline when their brains are exposed to THC. So far, there’s no evidence that consuming THC at a young age helps with memory in old age.

Memory Isn’t the Only Benefit

Cannabis research is in its relative infancy, but already scientists see near miraculous results. Marijuana helps relieve anxiety, inflammation, pain, and nausea. It helps multiple sclerosis patients by relaxing tight muscles. Cannabis also gives AIDS and cancer patients appetites. It may be decades before science recognizes marijuana as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia, but its other benefits are undeniable.

 

Featured image: CC by 4.0 International, by Jennifer Martin, via Wikimedia