Marijuana Compound Helps Remove Alzheimer's Disease Protein From Brain

First Posted: Jun 30, 2016 06:40 AM EDT

In a major breakthrough, researchers at the Salk Institute have found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and some other compounds found in marijuana may help in removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein found in the brain which is linked to Alzheimer's disease.

"Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer's, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells," said Salk Professor David Schubert, the senior author of the paper.

For the study, the research team grew human neurons in the lab that mimic the effects of Alzheimer's disease and then exposed the neurons to THC and other marijuana compounds. They found that high levels of amyloid beta were associated with cellular inflammation and higher rates of neuron death.

The researchers claimed that exposing the cells THC reduced levels of the amyloid beta proteins in the cells and also had the effect of reducing inflammation of the nerve cells and allowing more of them to survive.

"Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer's disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves," said research team member Antonio Currais.

"When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying."

The researchers pointed out that these early experiments were conducted in exploratory laboratory models and that further testing in clinical trials would be required in future.

Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disorder that leads to memory loss. The disease adversely affects important mental functions making it difficult for the patient to carry out even daily tasks. According to the National Institutes of Health, Alzheimer's disease affects more than five million Americans. It is also the most common cause of dementia and its incidence is expected to triple during the next 50 years.

The research was published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease.

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