Recent studies have revealed that low doses of the active ingredient in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, may reverse the effects of brain aging and even restore memory while improving the rate of an individual’s learning ability. Studies conducted on mice by Andreas Zimmer and his leading team at the University of Bonn in Germany say that profound and robust effects have been found. Zimmer’s research team have been studying the effects on the mammalian endocannabinoid system which is responsible for balancing out the body’s response to stress. Zimmer reports that THC is known to mimic similar molecules in the mammalian endocannabinoid system, resulting in an overall calming effect. His research showed those mice containing genetic mutations which subsequently stopped the endocannabinoid system from functioning properly, tended to age faster and exhibit more cognitive decline that normal mice.
Stimulation in the elderly
The results obtained by Zimmer and his team seemed to make them curious as to the effects of stimulating the endocannabinoid system in elderly mice. The team subsequently gave three sample groups – young, middle aged and elderly mice of 2 months, 12 months and 18 months respectively – a steady but small dose of THC. After one month, various cognitive tasks were performed. These included testing the mice’s ability to find their way around mazes as well as their recognition abilities. While no psychoactive effects were experienced, results obtained showed that elderly mice which had been given THC performed just as well as the younger mice within the control group.
Furthermore, the middle aged and elderly mice in control groups which received no THC performed at a rate that was lower than the younger mice in the control group and the elderly mice that had received THC. Subsequent studies also showed that THC had resulted in an increase in the number of connections between brain cells in the hippocampus region, an area involved in memory formation.
Age related effects of THC
While results showed an increase in the cognitive effects of THC-treated elderly mice, it seemed that the opposite effect was experienced in young mice whose performance in similar tasks declined steadily. Many additional studies have shown that young people also perform relatively poorly while learning and taking tests after smoking marijuana however links between these studies have since been disputed as the doses received when smoking marijuana are much higher.
Zimmer and his team however propose that these findings further show too much or too little stimulation from THC can be harmful. Too much THC may overstimulate the endocannabinoid system in younger generations. Over time this system activity may decline in the ed=elderly however adequate amounts of THC may restore functioning to optimum levels.
Moving to human trials
Other researchers aren’t surprised with the results from Zimmer and his team and have actually supported his claims. David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist from Imperial College, London together with his own colleagues have also shown that THC can actually have beneficial effects on the brain and be used to protect against alcoholic induced brain damage.
Zimmer and his team are now moving to next phase of their research which involves human trials in an attempt to find out if elderly people can also benefit from low doses of THC and if so, then from what age does it start being beneficial. These human trials will use purified levels of THC, allowing for the exact dosage of the active ingredient to be controlled and monitored. The type of administration is still undecided but it could be developed in the form of a mouth spray.