It’s a surprise result: instead of causing memory loss, cannabis can improve memory! An interesting study on mice at the University of Bonn revealed that even though young mice might not remember and perform well when given a daily dose of THC, older mice thrive on it, and even do better in memory and cognitive challenges.
The researchers are looking forward to clinical trials later this year to see if they can achieve the same effects in older people. The journal Nature Medicine published the study, and The Guardian published a report on its findings.
Turn cognitive decline around
Researchers are positive that small doses of daily cannabis extract can slow or even turn the cognitive decline caused by old age around. The results showed that the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), might disable the learning ability and memory of young mice, but it increased the mental agility of old mice.
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Rejuvenate the brain
The study’s findings raise hopes that cannabis can improve memory in old age, helping older people to remain independent for longer by staving off dementia. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, from Bonn University, said that if the brains of elderly citizens can be rejuvenated to give everyone five, or ten years more without the need for extra care, society as a whole will benefit.
So far, nobody has studied the impact of THC on the older brain as intensively as its effect on adolescent brains. In this instance, researchers found that regular and heavy use could lead to the impaired memory.
Test of ability and memory
The study described by the research team was a month-long trial. Mice aged two months, one year and 18 months received a daily dose of THC. The tests that followed involved problem-solving and memory testing activities such as a water maze and recognition of familiar objects.
The younger mice, which didn’t receive any THC, mastered the test well in comparison to the older mice. THC had a dramatic impact on the older and younger groups. The young mice went for a nosedive on THC. But the older mice performed so much better than before. They even matched the scores of young mice which had never received THC. The benefits lingered for weeks afterward, and none of the mice showed any strange behavioral effects related to THC use.
The scientists concluded that these results showed a lasting improvement in cognitive ability resulting from small dosages of THC in mature and old mice. They attributed the improvement to more youthful gene expression in the brain.
The team says that THC stimulates the endocannabinoid system which becomes less active with age. Bilkei-Gorzo says the study shows normalization of the system over a period of time.
Professors: result not surprising
Professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London David Nutt said the results of the study were not surprising to him at all. He believes it’s entirely possible that cannabis can improve memory in old age. However, he points out that we still need to get certainty about whether the findings apply to humans.
Michael Bloomfield from psychiatry at University College London says the study opens up a new research direction. Does an active endocannabinoid system stave off dementia? It’s a question that only science can answer. He warns that THC can produce different effects according to dose, the age of the person, and the frequency of use.
Cannabis can improve memory in mice: it’s only a beginning
Even though THC was shown to improve memory in this particular study, the possibility of doctors prescribing it for memory problems in older people in the near future is unlikely. We will have to wait for many years while scientists complete their trials. Before we can consider using THC to improve memory, they will have to pin down all the variables that would affect treatment outcomes.