Active ingredient in marijuana may help preserve brain function

Good news for aging hippies: smoking pot may stave off Alzheimer’s disease (source: MSNBC)

(A 2006 study) shows that the active ingredient in marijuana may prevent the formation of deposits in the brain associated with the degenerative disease.

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can prevent an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase from accelerating the formation of “Alzheimer plaques” in the brain more effectively than commercially marketed drugs.

THC is also more effective at blocking clumps of protein that can inhibit memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers reported in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

The researchers said their discovery could lead to more effective drug treatment for Alzheimer’s, the leading cause of dementia among the elderly.

Those afflicted with Alzheimer’s suffer from memory loss, impaired decision-making, and diminished language and movement skills. The ultimate cause of the disease is unknown, though it is believed to be hereditary.

Marijuana is used to relieve glaucoma and can help reduce side effects from cancer and AIDS treatment.

From the researchers at Scripps:

THC “may provide an improved therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease” that would treat “both the symptoms and progression” of the disease.

“While we are certainly not advocating the use of illegal drugs, these findings offer convincing evidence that THC possesses remarkable inhibitory qualities, especially when compared to AChE inhibitors currently available to patients,” said Kim Janda, Ph.D., who is Ely R. Callaway, Jr. Professor of Chemistry at Scripps Research, a member of The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, and director of the Worm Institute of Research and Medicine. “In a test against propidium, one of the most effective inhibitors reported to date, THC blocked AChE-induced aggregation completely, while the propidium did not. Although our study is far from final, it does show that there is a previously unrecognized molecular mechanism through which THC may directly affect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

As the new study points out, any new treatment that could halt or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease would have a major impact on the quality of life for patients, as well as reducing the staggering health care costs associated with the disease.

Read the full study here.

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