Sunday, November 1, 2009

Medical Marijuana as Effective Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

Regular low dose cannabis smoking might keep Alzheimer’s away, according to marijuana research by professor Gary Wenk and associate professor Yannic Marchalant of the Ohio State Department of Psychology.

Wenk’s studies show that a low dosage in the morning of a certain cannabinoid, a component in marijuana, reversed memory loss in older rats’ brains. In his study, an experimental group of old rats received a dosage, and a control group of rats did not. The old rats that received the drugs performed better on memory tests, and the drug slowed and prevented brain cell death.

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Alzheimer’s is a disease unique to humans and the memory loss in the rats was a natural decline, but rat brains are similar enough to human brains to serve as partial models for humans, Wenk said.

Other research has shown that young people who take Advil regularly for arthritis, drink alcohol in moderation or smoke cigarettes reduce their risks of developing Alzheimer’s as they age, but marijuana is the first substance that has worked on older brains in experiments.

Alzheimer’s screening is available for people in their 30s, but it is expensive and many people do not recognize the warning signs. "People get diagnosed [with Alzheimer’s] in their 60s, and they need something now," Wenk said.

However, the research does not call directly for all Alzheimer’s patients to start smoking marijuana on a daily basis, because it is not clear yet how the famous narcotic effect can be perceived by the Alzheimer’s patients in various stages. Its positive effects for the individuals, who have not yet developed the dementia symptoms, as one more anti-inflammation ingredient, look conclusive.

Official implications of the research are scientifically based suggestions for the development of a legal drug that contains certain properties similar to those in marijuana helps preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, chronic inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to memory impairment. Any new drug’s properties would resemble those of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive substance in the cannabis plant, but would not share its capability to produce a "high".

Evidence suggests that people who regularly smoked marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s rarely develop Alzheimer’s disease, said Wenk, adding that researchers are eager to develop a drug with the anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana, but without the drug’s psychoactive effects.

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The colleagues treated young and old rats with WIN-55212-2 (WIN), a synthetic drug similar to marijuana. While the compound improved memory and helped to control inflammation, it is not a candidate for use in humans because it still contains substances that could trigger a high.

“We don’t use marijuana in our experiments because we’re trying to find a compound that isn’t psychoactive,” Wenk said. “And using synthetic compounds may eventually help us to separate the beneficial effects from the psychoactive effects.”

Earlier research (2006) at the Scripps Research Institute in California also found that marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can prevent an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase from accelerating the formation of "Alzheimer plaques" in the brain more effectively than any commercially marketed drugs. THC is also more effective at blocking clumps of protein that can inhibit memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers reported in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.

Thus, Marijuana may be considered as the first drug to offer real promise in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies have shown that marijuana not only promotes neural growth, but can actually reduce the growth in tumors by as much as fifty-percent in patients with lung cancer.

Studies demonstrating the medicinal properties of marijuana have not been limited to Alzheimer’s disease. Marijuana has been shown to relieve the symptoms brought on my diseases and conditions such as HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, migraines, muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, and arthritis. The potential advantages of Marijuana for Clinical depression treatment have been demonstrated in my recent post Medical marijuana is an effective treatment for depression: True or False? in my Clinical Depression: Symptoms and Treatment blog.

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Facts: California became the first state in the USA, which enacted special Law legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. Since than, 12 States followed up, enacting similar state laws: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. In 14 other states, there are currently active propositions on medical marijuana legalization, pending legislation or Ballot Measures. There is a single state - South Dakota, where Medical Marijuana initiative has failed so far.

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