Jan. 3, 2013 12:15

Vital Function

New research suggests cannabis compounds can slow the degeneration of brain functions


The usual stereotype perpetuated by the mainstream media, modern entertainment and government-sponsored propaganda is that if you ingest cannabis, your brain will fry like an egg in a hot pan. As this narrative dictates, we would certainly never expect that any living thing afflicted with a degenerative brain condition could possibly improve its condition after being exposed to cannabis.

But that may not be the case.

Dr. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, of the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn in Germany, conducted a scientific study that indicates cannabis might be effective for maintaining normal brain functioning in mice suffering from degenerative brain conditions caused by old age and disease. The study, “The endocannabinoid system in normal and pathological brain aging,” was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the oldest scientific journal in the English-speaking world.

Bilkei-Gorzo’s study found that when the cannabinoid systems in healthy mice were activated, an antioxidant type of “cleanse” resulted, which removed damaged brain cells. This also enhanced the mitochondrial function within the brain cells, resulting in more efficient cognitive functions than before.

Mice—particularly white albino lab mice—are frequently used in laboratory experiments because of the species’ genetic similarity to humans. In previous experiments performed on mice by others, synthetic versions of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been used to stimulate cannabinoid receptors, leading to regenerative results similar to Bilkei-Gorzo’s study.

Laboratory mice that have been genetically bred to lack cannabinoid receptors have shown rapid, degenerating brain functions as they age, specifically as a result of damage done to the hippocampus, an area responsible for memory and other vital functions.

Eliminating certain cannabinoid receptors “leads to early onset of age-related memory decline, similarly affecting both reward and aversion-driven learning,” Bilkei-Gorzo wrote regarding other mice-cannabinoid experiments conducted prior to his own.

Previous studies have also suggested that cannabis can play a role in healing the damage done to the brain from disease and old age by reducing inflammation. This is of great interest to patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses that can affect brain tissue.

“Cannabinoid system activity is neuroprotective,” Bilkei-Gorzo says.

Using cannabis compounds “could be a promising strategy for slowing down the progression of brain aging and for alleviating the symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders,” he adds.
Another scientist involved in Bilkei-Gorzo’s study, Dr. Gary Wenk of Ohio State University, comments, “I’ve been trying to find a drug that will reduce brain inflammation and restore cognitive function in rats for over 25 years; cannabinoids are the first and only class of drugs that have ever been effective. I think that the perception about this drug is changing and in the future people will be less fearful.”

Naturally, more research—on humans, preferably—needs to be done. Even the abstract for the study acknowledges this: “In preclinical models of neurodegenerative disorders, cannabinoids show beneficial effects, but the clinical evidence regarding their efficacy as therapeutic tools is either inconclusive or still missing.”

Being Mindful

Aging is a fact of life—and it affects our brains, too. Once you pass 60, it’s not uncommon to experience declines in concentration, focus, judgment and memory. This may also signal the onset of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Also, as we age our brains decrease in weight and volume, likely the result of a loss of neurons and brain fluid. Keeping your brain busy as you get older (sign up for a class, learn something new, take up a new hobby) can help keep those nerve cells healthy.

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