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Cannabis reverses aging processes in the brain
Researchers found in a study that the cannabis ingredient THC improves the declining brain performance of older mice. You now want to test this effect on humans. THC may be used to treat dementia in the future.
Improve memory performance
Memory deteriorates more and more in old age. Some people try to train their minds preventively with the help of sudokus, crossword puzzles and special brain jogging apps. However, US scientists recently reported that such apps do not have a beneficial effect on our memory. A remedy that few people associate with a positive effect on the brain could possibly help: cannabis.
Effects on the brain
In the past, scientific research has indicated that cannabis use makes people stupid and shrinks the brain. However, there were also studies that raised doubts about the thesis that smoking pot reduces IQ.
Scientists at the University of Bonn, together with colleagues from Hebrew University (Israel), have now found that cannabis can have a positive effect on memory loss in old age - at least in mice.
The effect should now also be tested on humans. The findings may open up new options for the treatment of dementia. The researchers have presented their previous results in the journal "Nature Medicine".
Cognitive performance decreases with age
Our brain ages like any other organ. As a result, cognitive performance decreases with age. One of the ways you notice this is that it becomes more difficult to learn new things or to pay attention to several things at the same time.
This process is normal, but can also promote dementia. Researchers have long been looking for ways to slow down or even reverse this process.
Scientists from the University of Bonn and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel) have now succeeded in doing this with mice.
Loss of performance was completely reversed
As the experts explain in a communication from the University of Bonn, these animals have a relatively short lifespan in nature and already show strong cognitive deficits at the age of twelve months.
The researchers administered a small amount of THC, the active ingredient of the hemp plant (cannabis), to mice at the age of two, twelve or 18 months over a period of four weeks.
The dose of the administered THC was chosen so low that an intoxication effect in the mice was excluded.
"The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance of the old animals," explained Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmer from the Institute for Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn.
According to the scientists, THC mimics the effects of the body's cannabinoids, which perform important functions in the brain. "With increasing age, the amount of cannabinoids naturally formed in the brain decreases," says Prof. Zimmer. "If the activity of the cannabinoid system decreases, then we find a rapid aging of the brain."
Thanks to THC, old animals behave like young animals
As part of the nervous system, the endocannabinoid system influences all aging processes. "The activity of the system decreases in aging animals and is accompanied by typical aging symptoms," said Prof. Zimmer, according to a message from the dpa news agency.
The consequences are osteoporosis, wrinkled skin and weaker learning and memory.
Through treatment with THC "the old animals" suddenly "behave like the young", says Zimmer. "We can no longer distinguish an animal that is one and a half years old from a young mouse," said the expert. The learning and memory performance is therefore much better than that of untreated old animals.
Dr. Mona Dvir - Ginzberg of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said in a statement from the university that THC treatment led to changes that "no longer corresponded to those of untreated old animals, but were rather similar to what we see in young animals".
Results transferable to humans
There is also evidence from Israel that the results are transferable to humans. Residents of an old people's home with loss of appetite and sleep disorders had received cannabis there. "Many of them were mentally much more active," said Zimmer, according to dpa.
These findings have led to the testing of cannabis for geriatric patients in Israel under clinically controlled conditions.
In the next step, the Bonn researchers want to conduct a clinical study to investigate whether THC can also reverse the aging processes of the brain in humans and increase cognitive performance again.
In Germany, cannabis for seriously ill people has been available on prescription for some time under certain conditions. Cannabis products are used, for example, to combat pain or to treat the bowel disease Crohn's disease.
The North Rhine-Westphalian Minister of Science Svenja Schulze was enthusiastic about the study: "It is a long way from mouse to human, but the prospect that THC could be used to treat dementia is extremely positive."
According to the dpa, Professor Zimmer pointed out that medical marijuana research shows that “practically everything that works in the mouse also works in humans. So I'm cautiously optimistic that the results may be transferable. ”
In previous research in the United States, researchers had found evidence that cannabis could delay the onset of Alzheimer's. (ad)