While opposition against marijuana use persists, the cannabis plant is not nearly as vilified as it has been in past decades. In 2017, 1 in 5 Americans live in a state where it is legal to smoke marijuana without a doctor’s prescription. Medical marijuana is commonly proscribed for pain management and to treat conditions such as:
- Multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune conditions
- Parkinson’s disease
- Mood disorders
- Degenerative neurological disorders
A recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine suggests that cannabis may even be able to help reverse brain aging.
Scientists from the University of Bonn and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem fed small quantities of THC, the active ingredient in the hemp plant (Cannabis), to methuselah mice aged 2, 12, and 8 months for 4 weeks. The dose administered was so small that it had no psychedelic or intoxicating effects. After treatment, researchers tested learning performance and memory with tasks aimed at orientation skills and the recognition of other mice.
The mice that took the placebo showed normal age-related decline in learning and memory tasks…but the brain function of mice that received the cannabis was on par with the brain function of the 2-month-old control mice!
How Cannabis Interacts with the Body
There are cannabinoid receptors throughout your body—in the cell membranes of your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system, and more. You body has these receptors because it makes its own cannabinoids, similar to those found in marijuana but at much lower doses. The cannabinoids in cannabis—cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—interact with your natural cannabinoid receptors.
According to the latest study, mice without functional receptors for THC experienced accelerated brain aging. Prof. Andreas Zimmer from the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn and member of the Cluster of Excellence ImmunoSensation explains, “With increasing age, the quantity of the cannabinoids naturally formed in the brain reduces,” says Prof. Zimmer. “When the activity of the cannabinoid system declines, we find rapid aging in the brain.” In terms of the results of the study Prof. Zimmer says, “It looked as though the THC treatment turned back the molecular clock,” says Zimmer.
The effects of cannabis on the aging brains of mice, however, is a far cry from its effects on a human brain. The next step, say researchers, is to conduct a clinical trial to see if cannabis works the same on humans.