Exercise has been long known to be among the few things that can help memory. In physiological terms, “physical exercise has positive effects on cognitive functions and hippocampal plasticity.” Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change from experience and is closely related to learning and memory. The hippocampus is a deep brain structure closely tied with memory, so hippocampal plasticity is a good thing, but brain scientist were not sure how exercise exerted these positive changes. A likely answer has been published by Brazilian researchers in the journal Hippocampus, and has to do with positive effects exercise has on the brain and memory stem from its simulation of the endocannabinoid system. The research paper is entitled “A role for the endocannabinoid system in exercise-induced spatial memory enhancement in mice.”
The endocannabinoid system is fairly recently discovered and major regulatory system in humans and other animals. The system was first discovered in relation to cannabis, as protein receptors on cell membranes turned out the be the target of marijuana and the reason for its medical and psychoactive effects. The CB1 receptor is activated by THC in cannabis and was the focus of study is this research. They conclude, “Our results suggest that, at least in part, the promnesic effect of the exercise is dependent of CB1 receptor activation and is mediated by BDNF.” Promnesic refers to memory promoting as is the opposite of amnesic. BDNF is brain-derived neurotropic factor, a secreted protein that helps support and grow brain cells.