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Compounds found in marijuana may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study from the Salk Institute.

Researchers found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as other compounds, helped to remove one of the key substances thought to trigger the onset of Alzheimer’s: amyloid beta-protein. THC is the chemical in marijuana that gives users a high and can also act as a pain reliever. Amyloid beta-protein build up in nerve cells with aging eventually forming plaque on the brain.

“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,” says Professor David Schubert, senior author of the paper.

The study’s authors used neurons grown in a lab to test the effects of THC. While the study is not conclusive and tests have not been conducted on humans, the research will still be useful in investigating how to mitigate the effects and onset of Alzheimer’s. Schubert said clinical trials would need to be conducted for before THC-like compounds can be used as a therapy. (RELATED: Medical Marijuana Study Shows Stunning Effect On Treating Pain, Nausea)

“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,” says Antonio Currais, one of the paper’s authors.

“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.” Alzheimer’s affects more than five million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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