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Cannabis could boost memory in older people
By Jerry Brownstein
Researchers have found evidence that small, daily doses of cannabis extract could possibly slow, or even reverse, the cognitive decline that comes with old age. The idea emerged from tests on mice which found that regular, low doses of THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – impaired memory and learning in young animals, but boosted the performance of older ones. The scientists plan to launch a clinical trial later this year to investigate whether this works in humans. Previous research on cannabis use in humans has found evidence that regular heavy use by adolescents can impair their memory functions. But the impact of the drug on older people’s brains has not been well studied.
Writing in the journal ‘Nature Medicine’, the scientists describe how they tested mice of different ages: two months, one year, and 18 months. First they were all tested without any drugs to see how fast they solved a water maze, and how quickly they recognised familiar objects. The younger mice did very well on these tests, while the older ones struggled. All of the mice were then given daily doses of THC for a month, and this had a dramatic impact on their test results. The performance of the younger mice went down sharply... but older mice improved so much that their scores matched those of healthy drug-free young mice!
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the study is that the researchers believe that the boost in brain function of the older mice resulted from the genes in their brains being restored to a more youthful level of efficiency. In other words, the THC made their brains behave younger. This is because THC stimulates the endocannabinoid system, a biochemical pathway that becomes less active with age in mice, humans and other animals. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, the head researcher of the study, is certain that the THC made this system respond as if it were younger. He added a note of caution saying that: “We are still in very early days and further research is needed. So the possibility of doctors prescribing cannabis, THC or similar compounds for memory problems in older people is still a ways off.”