Can Alzheimer's be Cured by Cannabinoids? - Dispatch Weekly

July 5, 2016 - Reading time: 3 minutes

Scientists have been exploring the medical applications of marijuana and a new study in this line has shown that cannabinoids could have the potential of curing Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study published in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease shows off preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana could be promoters of cellular removal of amyloid beta – a toxic protein that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists at Salk Institute have however said that their study is based on neurons grown in the laboratory and so real world testing remains and findings could differ.

However, this study is a good starting point and offers insight into the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease and could provide clues to developing novel therapeutics for the disorder. Previous studies have talked about the protective nature of cannabinoids against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s; however, the paper by Salk researchers is the first to show evidence that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that leads to memory loss and can seriously impair a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks. According to latest statistics, it affects more than five million Americans, 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 has long been known that amyloid beta accumulates within the nerve cells of the aging brain well before the appearance of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms and plaques. Amyloid beta is a major component of the plaque deposits that are a hallmark of the disease. But the precise role of amyloid beta and the plaques it forms in the disease process remains unclear.

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.

Brain cells have switches known as receptors that can be activated by endocannabinoids, a class of lipid molecules made by the body that are used for intercellular signaling in the brain. The psychoactive effects of marijuana are caused by THC, a molecule similar in activity to endocannabinoids that can activate the same receptors. Physical activity results in the production of endocannabinoids and some studies have shown that exercise may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.