Alzheimer’s disease can be devastating and an effective way to slow down its effects continues to elude doctors and patients. Numerous methods and treatments have been proposed and tried over the years with little long-term success. Now, a team of researchers think medical marijuana may be the answer to the debilitating disorder.

Cannabis protects the brain

A study done by the Salk Institute found that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can help eliminate some toxic proteins connected to Alzheimer’s. The team noticed that high levels of “amyloid beta” proteins were associated with cellular inflammation and increased neuron death.

While other studies of marijuana and Alzheimer’s disease suggested cannabinoids can protect the brain from the symptoms of the disorder, this was the first study to examine how cannabinoids prevent both inflammation and amyloid beta buildup in brain cells.

Cells live longer with marijuana

According to lead author David Schubert, the team created nerve cells capable of producing high levels of amyloid beta proteins. When left alone, these cells developed inflammation and died rather quickly. Yet, when the cells were exposed to cannabinoids, the amount of toxic proteins went down significantly. The treated cells experienced much less inflammation and survived much longer. The researchers concluded the marijuana was keeping the cells alive.

Real world results?

Even though the researchers saw the protective effects of medical cannabis on neurons grown in the lab, they are not completely sure humans will get the same benefits. While THC was responsible for the reduction of the harmful proteins, the chemical also causes the plant’s psychological effects.

Clinical trials are currently being planned.

Weighing the benefits

The study did not measure the potential negative effects of marijuana on the aging brain. The researchers worry the side effects of using medical marijuana, like memory loss, may counteract any real benefits. While cannabis may someday help drug makers formulate medicine to treat Alzheimer’s patients, it is not yet clear if the adverse health effects will make pot a practical treatment.

Not a cure yet

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain condition that slowly destroys nerve connections in the brain. Patients with the disorder have a difficult time completing everyday tasks like swallowing and moving around. Much more research is definitely needed before marijuana can be called a “miracle cure” for the dreaded disease.

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