Good news for potheads: marijuana may help prevent Alzheimer’s. A recent study by researchers at the Salk Institute has discovered that endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring receptors in brain cells, can clear out “plaque” that builds up and degrades brain cells over time. This plaque is connected to Alzheimer’s, but we aren’t entirely sure how–yet. For some time we’ve assumed that this buildup was a reaction by the brain, but it’s starting to look like that isn’t true.
Endocannabinoids can be triggered through physical activity, so it seems like exercise might help stave off Alzheimer’s as well, which is good to know because that plaque starts to build up well before signs of the actual disease ever appear. Regular exercise throughout life might help prevent the development of the disease, along with the other more recognizable benefits of physical activity.
The psychoactive properties of THC, the stuff in marijuana that makes people feel “high,” has some similar properties to endocannabinoids. It looks like taking in THC can have a similar effect to activating the endocannabinoids in your brain cells.
However, researchers have stressed that this information is based solely on laboratory studies. They aren’t 100% sure that using marijuana has a preventative effect the disease, so don’t go looking for a medical card because you don’t want to get Alzheimer’s some day. There is still much more research to be done, including clinical trials to see how (and if) THC has a preventative effect for Alzheimer’s in real patients. And if they do find that it has the protective qualities is seems to have, then they need to find out the best way to deliver it, in what kind of doses, and more.