Cannabinoids may well be helpful in slowing and preventing the damage to the human brain known as Alzheimer ’s disease and other dementia.
With properties that help protect nerve cells, especially brain cells, it is reasonable that cannabinoids might be useful in preventing and treating insidious AD.
As with other degenerative diseases associated with aging, AD is of special importance to baby boomers and aging populations throughout the world.The number of people so afflicted may triple over the next half century. All the degenerative diseases are cruel, but AD can inflict soul-robbing pathology into families and relationships. With AD comes a slow breakdown of memories and then personality.
Plaques and Tangles
Central to this damage seems to be the formation of fibrous, knotted senile plaques in the brain. Inside these plaques, inflammation festers. Chronic inflammation is dangerous anywhere; it is especially destructive when microglial cells, the brain’s protectors, themselves become sources of inflammation right in the brain.
Two protein substances clog the brains of those afflicted with AD. Remarkably, cannabinoids appear to provide protection against both these threats to our brains and minds.
- Amyloid plaques – composed of strands of protein, beta-amyloid peptides. These so-called senile plaques are a clear marker for Alzheimer ’s disease.
- Neurofibrillary tangles – composed of protein microtubules, tau.
THC Blocking Plaques
Fresh research reported in late 2006 clarifies some of the mechanisms that make THC such a powerful anti-Alzheimer’s disease agent. San Diego’s Scripps Research Institute, specifically its Worm Institute of Research and Medicine is the source of new findings about the ability of THC to block the formation of plaques in the brain. In test tube trials, THC shows a remarkable ability to stop the formation of these personality-robbing plaques. THC, the San Diego researchers found, inhibited the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, a substance that plays a key role in inducing β amyloid plaques.
Side-by-side comparisons with two pharmaceutical drugs currently on the market (and inexorably advertised during television news) are startling. THC, the primary cannabinoid from the source plant cannabis. was over four times more effective than one of the drugs, and roughly 14 times more effective than the other.
At the molecular level, THC bound to the acetylcholinesterase molecule, preventing the enzyme’s key role in creation of amyloid aggregation. Institute director and study coauthor Kim Janda was quite effusive at a 2006 release:
Although our study is far from final, it does show that there is a previously unrecognized molecular mechanism through which THC may directly affect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lead researcher Janda went on to say,
While we are certainly not advocating the use of illegal drugs, these findings offer convincing evidence that THC possesses remarkable inhibitory qualities, especially when compared to [Alzheimer’s drugs] currently available to patients.
Look for Part 2 soon at Your Brain on Bliss