The Salk Institute reports on research showing that THC and other cannabinoids may be helpful in reducing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, but warns caution. In the first place, the organization says the study was carried out ‘in vitro’ rather than in a living organism, and secondly, it warns against the side-effects of THC, saying that it has “potential for harm”.
Is THC the only cannabinoid for Alzheimer’s investigated to date?
A 2014 study on CBD as a cannabis for Alzheimer’s treatment was conducted on living transgenic mice. It found that long term treatment with cannabidiol prevented social recognition memory deficits from developing. Admittedly, this is not yet a human trial, but since CBD doesn’t have the side-effects that Salk researchers say they’re worried about, it would be interesting to know if CBD would have the same effects to those observed in their petri-dish experiments with THC.
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What’s new about the recently published study?
The Salk study investigated the effects of cannabinoids on neurons on a cellular level and may provide insight into the effects of cannabinoids on Alzheimer’s patients when and if human trials are ultimately undertaken. Researchers found that compounds found in cannabis helped eliminate amyloid beta proteins that cause inflammation. They say their results shed light on the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease.
It is already quite widely accepted that toxic amyloid beta proteins play a role in the development of harmful plaque deposits in the brain, but aren’t quite sure what the mechanism involved would be. In the study, nerve cells were altered to produce amyloid beta proteins. Cell cultures that were not treated with cannabinoids showed inflammation and increased cell death. But when cannabinoids were introduced to the cell cultures, there was reduced inflammation and the cells survived.
Cannabis for Alzheimer’s: what comes next?
The authors of the study warn that cannabinoids may react differently when nerve cells are part of a living brain and not just cultures in a petri-dish. And since their study focused on THC, they’re worried about the memory-loss side effects that have been observed among those using THC. Obviously, it would be a mistake to treat a disease that causes memory loss with a medicine that causes memory loss.
Judging from the2014 CBD study and the reported lack of side effects among those using CBD, this may be a more productive research direction, but it would be impossible to say for sure until large-scale clinical trials have been conducted on real patients. Before this can happen, it seems likely that further animal trials will follow so that researchers can ensure that testing cannabinoids on real patients has a low potential for causing harm.
A new use for cannabis?
With countries around the world calling for more research into cannabinoids, we can hope that this research direction will be among those fast-tracked. If cannabis for Alzheimer’s really can cure or at least slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, it will be an important medical advance with great benefits to humanity.