Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is often abbreviated as THC, is a component found in marijuana. It is notorious for its mind-altering effects; actually, it is this substance that is to blame for its popularity, as far as the getting-high effect is concerned.
However, its effects are not limited to altered perception. Extensive research revealed several medical uses, which THC could have, including chronic pain relief, eczema symptom alleviation, etc. A study carried out by a team of scientists from the Salk Institute showed that the compound could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which is one of the conditions that develop mostly in seniors.
While the causes of Alzheimer’s remain unknown, it is believed that it is triggered by plaques formed by a protein known as amyloid beta.
The cells of which the human body is comprised have various receptors on their surface. These include cannabinoid receptors, namely cannabinoid receptor type 1 and cannabinoid receptor type 2, to which THC can bind. Actually, the body produces its own cannabinoids, which are called endocannabinoids. These molecules are lipid mediators, which are produced when exercising or doing other physical activity. The receptors are found mostly in neurons involved in the processes of thinking, memory, perception of time, and pleasure. These lipids that bind to the receptors ensure communication between cells. That is why when a person smokes marijuana, it gets from the lungs to the bloodstream, and THC binds to the receptors, thus interfering with normal signalling.
Besides the high, it could have other effects on the body, and one of them could contribute to elimination of amyloid beta, which is toxic and forms build-ups that apparently lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Another thing, which is reported to be the culprit, is neurofibrillary tangles, i.e. aggregates of tau proteins that are mutated. Although it is not known how the disease develops, it was reported that inflammation in the brain could be a major factor.
A new approach
The team of scientists grew human neurons in a lab dish; the cells were designed to mimic neurons of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It was already known that THC can inhibit plaque formation by preventing the enzyme responsible for producing it from amyloid production. In this project, they found that THC can also block the signals sent by the nerve cells in response to inflammation, which helps cells survive.
The study findings suggest that THC could protect neurons and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is not known whether the same result can be achieved in humans. The experiments in the lab were successful, and clinical trials are expected to follow.
A substitute for THC
As cannabis remains prohibited in several states, it is still difficult to research it. More states are adopting new policies regarding marijuana consumption, and new legal changes that followed legalization made organizing research projects focused on cannabis effects easier, but there is still a lot of work to do. To start researching THC faster, the scientists are going to use a substitute for it known as J147, which reportedly has similar properties.
If THC turns out to be effective not only in the Petri dish, but also in humans, another challenge of turning it into a medication will follow, because the mind-altering effects it’s notorious for could lead to complications.
It is worthy of note that taking cannabinoid-based drugs that are widely available in the form of oil, liquids, etc. can be unsafe, so if it is legal in your state, consult a doctor prior to taking anything that contains cannabis-derived compounds. The medical uses they could have may be impressive, but the intake of marijuana or its compounds can lead to lung diseases and other health problems.