A major study has shown that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the most abundant psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, plays a key role in protecting neurons from the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Researchers at the Salk Institute released the results and analysis of the study, which were published in Nature. The study showed that THC was able to both protect neurons from the degenerative effects of the amyloid beta plaques and relieve the damaging inflammation these plaques cause.
“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,”
said Salk Professor David Schubert, the senior author of the paper.
The research involved modifying neurons to have high amounts of amyloid beta to cause the same plaque formation seen in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients. Left alone, these neurons developed inflammation and died. But when researchers exposed identical neurons to cannabinoids, the inflammation was reduced as well as the plaque, allowing the cells to live.
What’s more, the study shows that THC relieves the specific type of inflammation caused by Alzheimer’s. Typically, conventional NSAID drugs block COX receptors, relieving a variety of inflammatory conditions. This study provided evidence that the neuron’s LOX receptors are the true culprits of inflammation caused by the plaques in Alzheimer’s, suggesting why NSAID drugs have proven to be ineffective in treating the disease. While the study showcases the medicinal qualities of cannabis, it also provides insight into the pathology of Alzheimer’s and other inflammatory conditions that don’t respond to conventional drugs.
One major criticism that the researchers addressed was the fact that they used neurons instead of a mouse model. Many believe that it’s the activation of other brain cells besides neurons that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. Conducting a new study with a mouse model or a clinical trial would be the next step in furthering the research. In the meantime, this study has pinpointed the factors involved in Alzheimer’s inflammation, and that cannabinoids may be key in treating this devastating disease.
This post was originally published on July 8, 2016, it was updated on October 5, 2017.