Who would have thought marijuana would one day be known for its age-reversing properties?! Bizarre though it is, a new study has found that THC, a compound that is also the chief psychoactive constituent of cannabis, can greatly enhance brain function in aged mice to the extent that it starts resembling two-month old rodents in terms of mind capacity. According to the research, small doses of this intoxicating chemical have already shown to improve learning as well as memory in these animals.
Conducted by a joint team of scientists from Germany-based University of Bonn and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the findings of the study were recently published in the Nature Medicine journal. The researchers began by administering a tiny amount of Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) into twelve-month-old, eighteen-month-old and two-year-old mice over a period of four weeks.
As pointed out by the team, small quantities of THC were used to study its effects on the brain without actually inducing the well-known side effect of euphoric high. The average lifespan of mice ranges somewhere between 12 and 18 months, which means that by the age of one they are already considered elderly. To analyze the rodents’ cognitive capacity, the scientists took into account a number of things, including their ability to recognize fellow mice and how well they could orient themselves on their own.
Additionally, the team performed several chemical tests on the animals’ brains. Unlike the mice in the placebo group, which continued to show age-related memory loss, the THC-injected creatures boasted remarkable improvements in cognitive performance. In fact, the change was so great that the brains of the elderly mice were found to be just as active and efficient as that of a two-month-old mouse. The reason for that is most likely the increase in the number of neural links to the brain brought about the compound. Speaking about the project, Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn’s Institute of Molecular Psychiatry said:
With increasing age, the quantity of the cannabinoids naturally formed in the brain reduces. When the activity of the cannabinoid system declines, we find rapid ageing in the brain… The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals. It looked as though the THC treatment turned back the molecular clock.
Zimmer goes on to explain that the newfound anti-aging properties of THC could be because it behaves like the cannabinoids naturally synthesized by the body’s endocannabinoid system (or ECS), which is In turn involved in the expression of different moods including anxiety, euphoria and so on. As we grow older, however, the production of natural cannabinoids drops, causing the brain to age significantly. The team is currently preparing for clinical trials on humans.
If successful, THC could play an important role in restoring cognitive function in elderly people with dementia. Svenja Schulze, North Rhine-Westphalia’s science minister, said:
The promotion of knowledge-led research is indispensable, as it is the breeding ground for all matters relating to application. Although there is a long path from mice to humans, I feel extremely positive about the prospect that THC could be used to treat dementia, for instance.
Source: University of Bonn