Tetrahydrocannabinol and other compounds found in marijuana may help the brain fight Alzheimer’s disease, according to preliminary research by scientists at the Salk Institute. The compounds may be able to remove the toxic protein linked to the disease that can build up in the brain, and stop nerve cells from becoming inflamed and dying, say the researchers in a study published in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease.
Alzheimer’s affects more than 5 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s the most common cause of dementia, and the incidence of the disease is expected to triple in the next 50 years.
"Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer's, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells," Salk professor David Schubert, senior author of the paper, said in an Institute release.
The researchers conducted their studies in neurons grown in a lab to mimic aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. Exposing the brain cells to THC reduced amyloid beta protein levels and eliminated the inflammatory response from the nerve cells that the protein usually causes.
In other recent Alzheimer’s research, scientists believe they identified a compound in pomegranates that can cross the blood brain barrier and may one day help fight the disease.