Neurodegenerative disease is the fastest-growing cause of death in the world. It will soon be the leading cause of death.
Inflammation is a common denominator among the diverse list of neurodegenerative diseases. Marijuana derivatives have attracted special interest as a way to prevent brain disease and a treatment. Cannabidiol (CBD), which lacks psychotropic effect, may represent a very promising agent with the highest prospect for neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
Medical cannabis has a long history of use, starting in India, China and the Middle East some 6,000 years ago. It came to the West in the 1800s, where it was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia until the 1930s. Used for more than 100 ailments, cannabis was a favorite of our grandparents for cough remedies, analgesics, and tonics and was available over the counter at every local drugstore as well as companies such as Sears, Roebuck and Co.
Banned in 1937 via the Marijuana Tax Act as part of a politically and racially driven prohibition craze, it was gradually removed from the pharmacopeia and research was discouraged and later prohibited via drug scheduling.
In a 2006 study published in Molecular Pharmaceutics, a team of University of Connecticut researchers reported that cannabis “could be considerably better at suppressing the abnormal clumping of malformed proteins that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease than any currently approved prescription.” The research team predicted that cannabinoid-based medications “will be the new breakout medicine treatments of the near future.”
The U.S. government has held a medical patent for the marketing of cannabinoids as antioxidants or neuroprotective agents since 2003. The patent states that cannabinoids are “useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases such as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
How does cannabis, and THC, in particular, confer neuroprotective effects?
Plant cannabinoids such as THC and CBD mimic and augment the activity of endogenous cannabinoids that all mammals produce internally. Endogenous cannabinoids are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates many physiological processes that are relevant to TBI, such as cerebral blood flow, inflammation, and neuroplasticity.
A 2011 article in the British Journal of Pharmacology describes the ECS as “a self-protective mechanism” that kicks into high gear in response to a stroke or TBI. Co-authored by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam, the article notes that endocannabinoid levels in the brain increase significantly during and immediately after aTBI. These endogenous compounds activate cannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, which protect against TBI-induced neurological and motor deficits. THC activates the same receptors – with similar health-positive effects.
To understand the effect of cannabis for treating neurodegenerative disorders, it’s necessary to understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS) first. It’s a biochemical communication system responsible for regulation of various factors such as—inflammation, neuronal function, and synaptic plasticity.
The ECS comprises endocannabinoids, endogenous lipid-based retrograde neurotransmitters, which bind to cannabinoid receptors, cannabinoid receptor proteins, orphan receptors and TRPV receptors in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.
According to a 2013 study published in Science Daily, again confirms that THC can help prevent long-term cognitive damage by brain injury. Also, the phytocannabinoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which help in modulating neurotransmission by preventing neuronal death.
A 2014 article in American Surgeon examined how marijuana use affected people who suffered a traumatic brain injury. “THC is associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining TBI,” the study concluded.
According to this noteworthy report by UCLA Medical Center scientists, TBI-afflicted individuals who consume marijuana are less likely to die and more likely to live longer than TBI patients who abstain.
In 2015, the American Academy of Neurology published a review on cannabis for the treatment of neurologic disorders. They found that cannabinoids in cannabis are effective in alleviating painful spasms, spasticity, and pain associated with multiple sclerosis. They also stated that insurance coverage should pay for dronabinol and nabilone for patients. Currently medical marijuana is not covered by any medical insurance.
Marijuana’s non-psychoactive compound, CBD, helps in protecting the brain’s hippocampus from toxins and reduces the activation of microglia. Although the purpose of microglia is to protect cells, their chronic activation can result in releasing harmful substances that kill neurons. Thus, CBD helps patients with Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the activation of microglia.
Cannabis is a natural medicine that can help alleviate a wide range of conditions including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Cannabinoids present in marijuana bind with the receptors in the endocannabinoid system and stimulate the brain’s self-protective endogenous system. Emerging evidence suggests that CBD is neuroprotective and may ameliorate brain harms associated with cannabis use, including protection from hippocampal volume loss.
The anecdotal benefits of CBD-rich cannabis oil for CTE are well known among football players, boxers, and other professional athletes who are prone to head injuries.
These findings support a protective role of CBD against brain structural harms conferred by chronic cannabis use. Furthermore, these outcomes suggest that CBD may be a useful adjunct in treatments for cannabis dependence and may be therapeutic for a range of clinical disorders characterized by hippocampal pathology (e.g., schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and major depressive disorder).
So, if you or your loved one is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease, medical cannabis may be an option. Cannabis composition determines effects on the brain, so some strains are more beneficial than others.
Smoking cannabis has long been associated with poor short-term memory, but a study now suggests that the strain of cannabis makes all the difference. In a test of short-term memory skills, only users of indica strains exhibited impaired recall when intoxicated, whereas people who smoked hashish or herbal cannabis blends performed equally well whether they were stoned or sober.
The key difference between the types of cannabis is the ratio of two chemicals found in all strains. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary active ingredient, and is responsible for the effects associated with the classic “high,” including euphoria and giddiness but also anxiety and paranoia. The second chemical, cannabidiol, has more calming effects, and brain-imaging studies have shown that it can block the psychosis-inducing effects of THC2. Skunk-type strains of cannabis contain a higher ratio of THC to cannabidiol than do hashish or herbal types.
Valerie Curran, a psychopharmacologist from University College London who led the latest study, says that if habitual users must partake they should be encouraged to use strains with higher levels of cannabidiol, rather than using skunk. She also argues that studying cannabidiol could provide insight into the mechanics of memory formation, and that it may have therapeutic benefits for disorders involving memory deficits. The findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
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