Protecting the brain with cannabinoid receptor activation.

Cannabinoid receptors, small protein structures in the cell walls of neurons (and other cells) have been shown positive effects in protecting the brain from degeneration. Now, new research out of Bonn, Germany confirms how important CB1 receptors and the activation of these receptors, are to the well-being of our aging brains. Science Daily‘s write up of the research was entitled, Bodyguard for the Brain: Researchers Identify Mechanism That Seems to Protect Brain from Aging. The bodyguard mentioned is none other than the CB1 receptor, which is activated by endocannabinoids such as anandamide and also by the plant cannabinoid, THC.  Activation of the CB1 receptors helped protect the brain from inflammation, memory loss, and learning deficiency. It prevented nerve cell loss in the critical hippocampus structure. These were mouse studies but with strong correlation to human learning, aging, memory and dementia.

Seemingly, this research would have important implications for medical cannabis. One of the main effects of  cannabis and its cannabinoids such as THC is the activation of these CB receptors in the brain. This research would imply that such activation provides a neuroprotective, anti-aging effect.

Another implication would include caution towards the use of CB1 receptor antagonists and/or CB1 receptor inverse agonist. Rimonabant, is just such a compound, acting as a blocker and perhaps inverse activator of CB1 receptors. Five years ago there was great hope that this “anti-marijuana” would make an effective weight loss drug, by causing the “anti-munchies.” But just as cannabis provides a mild uplifting “high,” this drug predictably caused the opposite effect, that is depression. It failed approval by the FDA and was later removed in some European markets for its depressive (and sometimes nauseating) effects. The new German research should spur caution about the possible brain degenerative effects of blocking CB receptors.

Regarding the importance of the identification of the CB1 receptor in brain neuroprotection, one of the lead German researchers noted: “The root cause of aging is one of the secrets of life. This study has begun to open the door to solving this enigma.”