Marijuana proponents hail the drug as the cure to all diseases ranging from cancer to the heartbreak of psoriasis. Underlying that optimism is an accusation that the government and big pharma have suppressed research into the many medical marvels of marijuana for their own nefarious ends.
It was only recently that a drug based on one of the chemicals found in marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD), hit the market in the U.S. Developed and manufactured by UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, Epidiolex (cannabidiol) was approved for epileptic seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) or Draven syndrome.
The drug was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July, but before it could be marketed in the U.S., the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had to reclassify the drug as a Schedule V substance from its previous designation as a Schedule I substance. Marijuana and CBD remain Schedule I substances.
Although the numerous chemicals found in marijuana, primarily CBD and THC (the part that causes euphoria), are being studied for medical purposes, it does not yet appear to be a cure-all. But recently, researchers with the University Medical Center Goettingen in Goettingen, Germany, presented research that suggested THC might decrease some of the brain changes connected to Alzheimer’s disease—in mice, anyway.
The researchers, led by Yvonne Bouter, presented their research at the Society for Neuroscience meeting held in San Diego last week.
The mice had been genetically modified to have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. They were given a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for six weeks. In their study, the mice receiving the THC performed as well on a memory test as the healthy mice. Genetically modified mice receiving a placebo instead of THC had memory problems.
The memory test involved remembering where a shallow spot was in a pool of water.
In the study, the mice receiving the THC lost fewer brain cells. They also have 20 percent less of the “sticky plaques” associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Bouter, NPR reports, says the research suggests that “cannabis could be beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease.”
But she notes that’s not a reason for healthy older people to take up smoking weed. “We did the same experiment in healthy mice,” she said, “and they had problems learning.”
Michael Taffe of The Scripps Research Institute, who moderated the press conference, said, “Should you give Grandpa THC? You should probably be cautious. You could have something that is detrimental, if this does not translate to humans, or the person did not have the disorder.”
And, in fact, other researchers at the press conference pointed out that studies on mice and rats have shown that THC exposure in the womb, in adolescence, and even in healthy adult brains, tend to have memory impairment and cognitive problems.
At this time, there does not appear to be clinical trials of cannabis-related compounds in Alzheimer’s patients. “There are just no venues to do it,” said Jamie Roitman, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who presented a study at the meeting about cannabis use in adolescent rats. She indicated that getting approval for a study like that, even in states where marijuana use is legal, would be extremely difficult.
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