Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that leads to memory loss and can seriously impair a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks. Salk Institute scientists have found evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta protein in the brain — the brain plaques which are linked with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
What Study Shows?
Alzheimer’s affects more than five million Americans according to the National Institutes of Health, and is a leading cause of death. It is also the most common cause of dementia and its incidence is expected to triple during the next 50 years. It is strongly associated with the build-up of amyloid-beta proteins in the brain, forming plaques that are thought to somehow damage neurons and cause their demise. As a result, key brain regions like the hippocampus can decrease in volume, leading to severe learning and memory defects.
How it Works?
The compound works by passing from the lungs to the bloodstream, where it attaches to two types of receptors, cannabinoid receptor (CB) 1 and 2, which are found on cell surfaces all over the body.
Receptors in the brain can be activated by endocannabinoids, which are a class of molecules made in the body that signal between brain cells. THC works similarly to endocannabinoids by activating the same receptors in the brain, which produces the drug’s psychoactive effects.
“Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves,” first author Antonio Currais, a postdoc researcher in Schubert’s laboratory, said in the release.
The researchers found that high levels of amyloid beta were associated with cellular inflammation and higher rates of neuron death. They demonstrated that exposing the cells to THC reduced amyloid beta protein levels and eliminated the inflammatory response from the nerve cells caused by the protein, thereby allowing the nerve cells to survive.
What they found was that not only did the THC cause a breakdown of the protein buildup, but a reduction in inflammation in the cells. Inflammation is bad because it makes it harder for your neurons to communicate with one another correctly.