Marijuana is touted for its medical uses, lessening pain, nausea, and other uncomfortable side effects of conditions like glaucoma, nerve pain, and cancer. Now researchers say, a chemical found in the hotly debated drug could slow or altogether stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Findings of a preclinical study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, suggest very small doses of THC, a chemical found in marijuana, slow down the production of thebeta-amyloid protein, which builds up to create plaques in the brain, an accumulation of which is a known hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
"THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer's pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation," lead author Chuanhai Cao, of the University of South Florida's Byrd Alzheimer's Institute said in a release.
Similar studies have also pointed out the effectiveness of THC in fighting the formation of harmful brain plaques. Researchers in a 2006 study conducted by the Scripps Institute found that THC blocked the aggregation of plaques completely, even better than the best known inhibitors, found in existing Alzheimer's drugs.
Researchers called THC "natural and relatively safe," emphasizing that in very low doses, the benefits of the compound outweigh any potential harm.
But don't go light up just yet. Researchers say the findings simply suggest the compound could be explored in future development of Alzheimer's drugs and therapeutic treatments.
"Are we advocating that people use illicit drugs to prevent the disease? No," said co-author Neel Nabar. "It's important to keep in mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn't mean it can be safely used by anyone. However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease."