Findings in a new study by German and Israeli researchers suggest that cannabinoids may effectively reverse age-related memory loss. The study, conducted by investigators at the University of Bonn and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that regular treatments of a particular cannabinoid caused older mice to have equal memory performance and learning capacities as younger mice.
“The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals,” said Prof. Andreas Zimmer, author of the study.
Mice age quickly and like humans their memory performance and cognitive abilities naturally decrease with age. Zimmer and his team of researchers investigated whether four weeks of low-dose treatments of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) would elicit any memory and learning effects. Some of the young mice (two months old), middle-aged mice (12 months), and older mice (18 months) were given THC, while others at each of those ages remained untreated. All the mice then underwent a water maze exam and were tested on how quickly they could recognize familiar objects.
The researchers found that while untreated mice displayed natural age-dependent memory and cognitive loss, the older mice treated with THC demonstrated the same level of cognitive functions as the two-month-old mice. THC effectively eliminated the typical memory loss and reductions in cognitive ability caused by age.
“These results reveal a profound, long-lasting improvement on cognitive performance resulting from a low dose of THC treatment in mature and old animals,” the study concludes.
The scientists found that THC’s cognitive benefits were related to the cannabinoid’s interaction with the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) of the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating an array of physiological processes, including memory and cognition. Cannabinoids like THC and cannabidiol (CBD) interact with cannabinoid receptors and elicit chemical responses that help to balance the body’s processes and systems.
The findings suggest that cannabinoids may be beneficial for maintaining brain health and potentially for treating dementia disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. The scientists are planning a clinical trial on humans aged 60 to 70 later this year.
“If we can rejuvenate the brain so that everybody gets five to 10 more years without needing extra care then that is more than we could have imagined,” said Andras Bilkei-gorzo, another author of the study, in an interview with The Guardian.
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