Findings in a study suggest that the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is effective at slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroscientists from the University of South Florida used a cellular model of Alzheimer’s disease to find that small doses of THC effectively inhibit the production of amyloid-beta proteins, considered to be hallmarks of the disease.
In Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 5 million people in the United States, amyloid beta proteins build up in the brain, blocking cells from communicating and preventing nutrient transport. This leads to brain cell death, and in turn a gradual loss of memory, thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out even the simplest of tasks.
“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” said Chuanhai Cao, PhD, the lead author of the study.
“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future.”
Previous research has also indicated that cannabinoids could be beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s disease. THC and the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) have shown to offer a multi-faceted approach in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Evidence suggests that in addition to reducing amyloid-beta levels, they effectively protect brain cells, reduce inflammation, enhance the birth of new cells, increase nutrient uptake, and improve cell function.
“While we are still far from a consensus, this study indicates that THC and THC-related compounds may be of therapeutic value in Alzheimer’s disease… these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Neel Nabar, a study co-author and MD/PhD candidate.
June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, an event designed to build awareness and to actively support those living with the progressive brain disorder. We encourage you to participate in the month-long effort, and you can learn how best to do so here.