Posted on May 09, 2017, 10 a.m.
Researchers show that a low dose of THC can help to restore age-related learning and memory decline in old mice.
Most people know the average person's memory dissipates during the aging process. University of Bonn scientists teamed up with academicians at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to determine the impact of cannabis on the brain's aging process. These researchers determined cannabis reverses aging processes within the brains of mice.
The study revealed that older mice reverted back to the state of 2-month old mice after being administerd an extended low-dose cannabis treatment. These findings are important as they show there are additional options for the treatment of dementia in humans. The study results were recently publicized in the Nature Medicine journal.
The Impact of the Aging Process on the Brain
The brain ages just like every other organ in the human body. The result of this aging process is a decrease in cognitive ability. As an example, people tend to find it difficult to pay attention to multiple things at the same time or learn new concepts/skills as they age. Though this is a normal process, it can also lead to dementia. Researchers have been searching for ways to mitigate or completely reverse this process. The scientists referenced above have reversed the process in mice with cannabis treatment. Mice have short life spans and show significant cognitive deficits after a year of life.
About the Study
The researchers provided mice with a small amount of THC. The low dose of cannabis treatment was selected so the mice did not experience a euphoric effect. THC is the active ingredient in cannabis. The treatment was provided to mice that were two months old, a year old and 18 months old. The treatment was applied across four weeks. The scientists then tested the animals' memory performance and learning capacity.
Mice provided with the placebo had the expected age-related memory and learning losses. Mice provided with cannabis exhibited cognitive functions equal to those of of two-month-old mice. The cannabis treatment totally reversed performance loss in mice. The scientists studied the gene activity and brain tissue of treated mice to determine exactly what sort of effect cannabis treatment had in particularly old mice.
Following treatment, the molecular signature did not match that of old mice. Instead, it was similar to young mice. Furthermore, the quantity of links in the brain's nerve cells increased. These cells are vital to one's ability to learn. The bottom line is that cannabis treatment turned back the “molecular clock” in mice and it might be able to do the same in humans.
What led up to the Research
The cannabis treatment success stems from years of intense research. The scientists found the brain ages more rapidly when mice are not equipped with functional THC receptors. Cannabinoid 1 receptors are best defined as proteins where substances halt and stimulate a signal chain. These receptors are the cause of the euphoric effects of THC in marijuana and hashish. THC replicates the effects of the cannabinoids that are naturally created in the body. Cannabinoids perform vital functions within the brain. As one ages, the number of cannabinoids produced in the brain decrease. As the cannabinoid system declines the brain ages quite rapidly.
The Next Step
The next logical step is for researchers to perform clinical trials to determine if cannabis also reverses the aging process in the brains of human beings. Cannabis is widely used for medical purposes. It is also possible that cannabis boosts cognitive ability in aging adults. Though mice are not exactly the same as humans, the research team believes cannabis treatment will prove to be an effective means of treating dementia suffered by human beings across the world.
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Nature Medicine (2017). nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nm.4311