A new study suggests that compounds related to marijuana may help limit memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia among the elderly, and with the ever-increasing size of this population, cases of Alzheimer’s disease are expected to triple over the next 50 years. The development of treatments that slow or halt the disease’s progression has become imperative both to improve patients’ quality of life and to reduce the health care costs attributable to Alzheimer’s disease.
As marijuana has strong anti-inflammatory effects, researchers from Ohio State University predicted a link to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, which is associated with chronic inflammation.
According to researcher Gary Wenk, Ph.D., “inflammation in the brain is part of aging. It happens to almost all of us. But in some cases, this inflammation gets out of hand and causes serious damage.”
The team gave WIN-55212-2, a synthetic drug similar to marijuana, to rats and found it improved memory and helped to control inflammation both in young and old animals. However, it could still trigger a high, so the team are trying to find a compound that isn’t psychoactive. The findings were presented at October’s annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Atlanta.
There is some evidence to suggest that people who regularly smoked marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s rarely develop Alzheimer’s disease, but Wenk does not recommend that Alzheimer’s patients start using marijuana.
“Patients would have to be so careful not to get too much,” he said. “That would only worsen the symptoms of their dementia.”
Cannabis comprises a complex mixture of chemicals with possibly opposing effects. Nevertheless, research is being undertaken by experts including Lisa M. Eubanks, Ph.D., of the Scripps Research Institute in California. Earlier this year, her team discovered a new molecular mechanism through which cannabinoid molecules may affect the progression of Alzheimer’s.