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Marijuana Use May Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Update Date: Aug 27, 2014 03:30 PM EDT

Marijuana could treat Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests.

Neuroscientists from the University of South Florida were able to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease using extremely low levels of the compound in marijuana called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.

After observing how marijuana affects Alzheimer's patients, scientists found that extremely low doses of THC can reduce the production of amyloid beta, a protein found in a soluble form in most aging brains. Low levels of THC can also and stop abnormal accumulation of amyloid beta. Researchers said this is important because the buildup of amyloid beta is believed to be one of the pathological hallmarks evident early in the neurodegenerative disease.

Furthermore, researchers found that low levels of the marijuana compound help maintain brain health by enhancing mitochondrial function, which is needed to help supply energy and transmit signals.

"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," study lead author Chuanhai Cao, PhD and a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy, said in a news release.

"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," he added.

Cao and his team noted that the doses examined in the latest study would not increase the risk of THC toxicity and memory impairment.

"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," study co-author Neel Nabar said in a news release. "Are we advocating that people use illicit drugs to prevent the disease? No. It's important to keep I n mind that just because a drug may be effective doesn't mean it can be safely used by anyone. However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease."

The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

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