Scientists have found that small amounts of the THC found in cannabis ? the ingredient that makes you high – can improve the impairment of memory and learning that results from age. Clinical trials are likely to follow.
It’s well-known that cannabis might adversely affect the brains of teenagers, a phenomenon also observed in young animals. A study just published in the journal Nature Medicine indicates that just what effect cannabis has varies with age.
Getting old impairs your brain, but cannabis helps
The brain’s endocannabinoid system influences mood, memory and sensations like pain and also governs the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Scientists already knew that it deteriorates with age, part of the cognitive decline associated with growing old. This study examined whether THC might rejuvenate the signalling of the CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brains of older mice and then improve memory and learning.
By Jiminy, yes
The study’s lead author Dr Andras Bilkei-Gorzo of Germany’s University of Bonn commented that even low doses of THC over an extended time period impaired the memory of young animals, but the opposite occurred in older mice. Low doses of THC were given to young, mature and old mice, defined as two, 12 and 18 months of age. The animals’ competence in memory and learning tasks was then evaluated.
One task was the Morris water maze, which see a platform concealed in a basin of water and mice must locate it based on environmental cues ? this tests spatial memory, which, in humans, is used to recall the layout of a town or a house. Other tasks were used to test social memory and object recognition.
THC hampered the performance of young mice at these tasks but improved it in the cases of mature and old ones, making them as effective as the youngsters. Jarid Goodman of Texas A&M University’s department of psychology, who was not part of this study, remarked that it was impressive that the effect was true of several memory and learning tasks, since if there was but one, perhaps it was due to factors that were specific to it. For example, if only the Morris water maze was used, the result might have been down to anxiety, since this is a stressful task.
Next up: clinical trials
Clinical trials are the next step, expected late in 2017 and using about 100 people aged 60 to 70 with mild cognitive impairment and early dementia. Scientists are expectant. Zimmer commented that THC’s effects on rodents were frequently also observed in humans. Goodman declared, “I believe the results are sufficient to start clinical studies in humans.? It helps that people are unlikely to suffer in any way from low dose THC treatment.
Michael Bloomfield, a psychiatrist at University College London, enthused that the ?well-conducted? study was ?exciting? since it opened up new avenues for research into such illnesses as dementia, but actual treatments were ?still a long way off.?
Goodman did, however, note that it would be ?unwise? for test subjects to imbibe THC through smoking because the elderly are more prone to lung problems.