Will Cannabis be used by physicians as a part of an Alzheimer’s Cure?

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The prestigious Salk Institute has released preliminary results of a scientific study which indicates that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can actually promote removal of amyloid beta, one of the toxic proteins found in the brain cells of patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post (“Is This the Best Hope Yet for a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease”) scientists have found that the likely culprit behind Alzheimer’s disease is the build-up of amyloid beta protein in the brains of those patients suffering from the disease, which causes plaque deposits in nerve cells of the brain and also results in inflammation of the brain tissue, causing memory loss, dementia, and ultimately death.

While this initial exploratory study was conducted in neurons grown in the laboratory, the research offers scientific insight into the role of plaque accumulation and inflammation in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims, and may lead to clinical trials utilizing cannabis compounds to treat the disease in adults.

The senior author of the paper, Salk Professor David Schubert, stated that “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 accumulation in nerve cells.”

The National Institutes of Health have found that Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder that leads to memory loss and an inability of adults to perform activities of daily living, affects more than five million Americans, and is a leading cause of death among the elderly.  The incidence of the disease is expected to triple in the next 50 years.

The Salk research team found that high levels of amyloid beta protein in the nerve cells they studied were associated with cellular inflammation and higher rates of neuron death.  However, by exposing these cells to THC, the researchers noted a reduction of amyloid protein levels in the cells and further noted that it eliminated the inflammatory response from the nerve cells caused by the protein build-up, thereby allowing the nerve cells to survive.

Interestingly, human nerve cells produce their own THC-like compound called endocannabinoids, a class of lipid molecules that are able to activate switches in brain cells known as receptors.  THC, found in marijuana is a molecule similar in activity to endocannabinoids that can activate the same switches.  It is believed by the scientists at the Salk Institute involved in the study that use of cannabis in treatment of Alzheimer’s disease may bolster the brain’s natural chemistry to eliminate inflammation of the nerve cells and thereby keep these cells alive.

I find this to be interesting and exciting news in the attempt to bring effective treatment to millions of Americans who are diagnosed every year with this terrible disease.

You may read the rest of the initial study findings here: https://www.salk.edu/news-release/cannabinoids-remove-plaque-forming-alzheimers-proteins-from-brain-cells/