Cognitive impairment is one of the hallmarks of recreational marijuana use. However, a new study published in journal Nature Medicine reveals that THC might have the opposite effect in an older demographic.
This new research was carried out with some help from mice. While young specimens dosed with the drug demonstrated the expected behavioral impairment, the treatment was seen to actually reverse cognitive decline in elderly mice.
THC and the Aging Memory: What’s Really Going On?
The research team administered small doses of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. This is the active ingredient in marijuana. The study mice were split into three different age groups.
As the team expected, mature and elderly mice did worse than their younger counterparts on behavioral tests. However, when they were dosed, the older mice performed on par with the control group. The THC-based treatment was seen to completely reversed age-related cognitive decline.
As a result, the researchers took a look at the brains or older mice and noted some changes. More exactly, the neurons in the hippocampus, a memory center, had begun to grow more synaptic spines. Gene expression within the hippocampus also modified to resemble a young brain. The findings can reportedly be easily explained when taking into consideration the close relationship between the brain and cannabinoids.
Within the brain, endogenous cannabinoids are molecules that can modulate neural activity in the pursuit of homeostasis. The cannabinoid system develops during childhood, rapidly expands in adolescence, then declines for the rest of the aging process.
This study showed that the endogenous cannabinoid system could be stimulated with low doses of THC. The key to obtaining these beneficial effects was to administer non-intoxicating low dose, given at the proper time. While aged mice benefited from the treatment, young mice did worse on the behavioral tests.
Now, the researchers will look to analyze the effects of the treatment in humans. There is a lack of research on cannabis use among older adults, who want to know if it is safe to use.
This study indicates that cannabis may actually offer beneficial effects to the fading memory. Although the jump from mice to humans is a long one, this initial research is laying the groundwork for a potential new therapy for cognitive decline.
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