A recent study conducted by Nature Partner Journals found that medical marijuana could potentially be a useful treatment for Alzheimer’ disease. The study revealed that THC stimulates the removal of toxic amyloid plaque in the brain, a common characteristic of the neurodegenerative disease, thus preventing the death of cells and stopping brain inflammation.
Existing research has already shown that medical cannabis is useful to ease certain symptoms in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, like irritability, agitation, aggression, delusions, and apathy. With this new research, scientists are hoping to find something more along the lines of a preventative treatment or a cure.
So far, there is still no cure for neurodegenerative diseases because they cause such complex damage to the brain. Some believe that another reason is that contemporary researchers are too narrowly focused and are not considering alternative treatments. While most research has targeted the removal of amyloid plaques, the kicker is that some patients have brains filled with plaques that retain normal cognitive function, while other patients may not have any and still suffer from dementia.
According to David Schubert, senior researcher and a professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies, “it is reasonable to conclude that there is therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” His research began a decade ago when he and his colleagues created a drug derived from turmeric. Animal testing revealed that the drug reduced inflammation and decreased damage to the nerve system in animals modeling Alzheimer’s disease. The reason the drug was so effective is that it worked through a pathway of cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system, which was named after the marijuana plant, helps diverse cells coordinate and communicate. Schubert then repeated his tests with marijuana to see if its cannabinoid, THC, would produce similar results. It did.
Keith Fargo, the director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, admits that medical cannabis is a “legitimate avenue of research.” While many doctors are excited by the possibilities, many more still remain skeptical, stating that there is still insufficient evidence to say definitively what effect this kind of therapy would have on humans.
Unfortunately, marijuana research is surrounded by regulations, making it difficult for scientists to learn more about the potential medical benefits of cannabis. Relatively few researchers are currently exploring medical marijuana in this country, with only a small number of ongoing clinical trials underway with very few participants.
Despite marijuana’s federal classification as a Schedule I drug with no recognized medical use, Schubert, as well as many other reputable scientists and doctors, are convinced that cannabis has legitimate medical use.
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