Marijuana could help fight Alzheimer's disease, according to a new Salk Institute study that suggests THC and other compounds in cannabis can help remove the deadly plaque accumulation tied to the eventually fatal condition.
In the Salk Institute for Biological Studies study
, published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease
, researchers found that exposing the brain's nerve cells to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, reduced amyloid beta protein levels and eliminated the inflammatory response from the cells caused by the protein
While the Salk Institute pointed out that the exploratory research was performed in neurons grown in the laboratory, the discovery could offer a glimpse into the role of inflammation in Alzheimer's disease and give new clues in developing new treatments for the disorder.
"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 beta accumulation in nerve cells," said David Schubert, senior author of the study.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease of the brain and probably the best known form of dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
. The disease is marked by memory loss, a decrease in thinking ability such as decision making, and then later by the inability to perform activities of daily living or recognize loved ones.
Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the number of those affected by the disease is expected to more than double by 2050 due to the aging of the population.
Antonio Currais, a postdoctoral researcher at Salk and an author of the study, said the researchers believe brain inflammation associated with Alzheimer's came from immune-like cells in the brain and not the nerve cells themselves.
"When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying," Currais said.
Schubert stressed in the Salk statement that the use of THC-like compounds as a therapy would need to be tested in clinical trials.
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