As it turns out, THC affects everyone differently as they age. Human research is limited. However, budding experiments using animal models have found that the psychoactive may slow down youngsters. Yet, new research suggests that it could be a vital preventative supplement for improving the mental faculties of adults. Here’s the scoop on how THC affects you at every age.
Surprisingly, cannabis medicines may prove to be safe and effective treatments for children. Cannabis is not something that should be given to children recreationally. Though no research is conclusive, exposure to cannabis early on is thought to lead to attention and memory problems later on. Yet, human studies have shown that compounds in the herb may be useful for some childhood diseases.
There is little to no research on how the long-term effects of pediatric cannabis medicines. However, two compounds in the plant have been safely given to children in clinical trials. Children have been treated with cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC) with little to no side effects.
A CBD in the form of a pharmaceutical drug, Epidiolex, has been found successful in phase II and III clinical trials for epilepsy. The cannabinoid is being explored as a potential treatment for both Dravet’s and Lenox Gastaut Syndrome.
Both CBD and delta-8-THC do not cause a psychoactive “high”, and they have been given to children with no signs of intoxication. Some studies have shown that high doses of delta-8-THC have caused a mild euphoria, but the cannabinoid is significantly less powerful than the famous psychoactive, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Adolescent and teens
A cannabis high may last longer for teens than for adults. According to neuroscientist Dr. Francis Jensen, the teenage brain is more receptive to cannabis. This means that they get “higher” for longer. In the teen brain, Jensen explains in an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, there are more places for THC to “land” and the cannabinoid stays in there longer. She says,
For instance, if they were to get high over a weekend, the effects may be still there on Thursday and Friday later that week. An adult wouldn’t have that same long-term effect.
Chronic adolescent and teen consumption may also make teens more likely to develop a long-term cannabis habit. Teens are more prone to impulsiveness and addictive behavior because they are rapidly soaking up and learning from their surroundings.
Teens can learn so quickly because their brains have more plasticity, which means that it can easily form new connections and learn new behaviors.
A 2015 survey of 8068 participants found that those who began consuming cannabis before the age of 14 were far more likely to be diagnosed with cannabis dependence than those who started after the age of 21.
However, it’s important to note that this survey did not rule out whether or not confounding factors such as underlying health conditions and home environment contributed to the link.
Could cannabis be a preventive supplement against old age? While the brain is constantly changing and learning, estimates suggest that the rational thinking (prefrontal cortex) part of the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. After this point, the brain slowly tips the growing into the aging process. Cannabis is possibly most helpful for the brain after aging begins.
A 2007 rodent study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that a synthetic THC successfully reduced brain inflammation and improved memory in rats with experimental Alzheimer’s Disease. This gave the research team at Ohio State University the idea that cannabis may be a successful preventative measure for degenerative aging.
In an interview with Leaf Science, Dr. Gary Wenk, a lead author of the study, explains,
I think all we can say safely so far is using low doses of marijuana for prolonged periods of time at some point in your life, possibly when you’re middle-aged to late middle-aged, is probably going to slow the onset or development of dementia, to the point where you’ll most likely die of old age before you get Alzheimer’s.
A study published in May of 2017 has been making headlines. Using rodents, an experiment has found evidence that cannabis compounds may slow down brain’s aging process. Researchers tested the effects of a THC isolate on young and old rodents. Mice were given a low dose of THC (3 mg/kg) for 28 consecutive days.
Three milligrams per kilogram of body weight is a low dose for a mouse. Mice are less sensitive to the psychoactive effects of THC than humans, so the are typically treated with larger amounts of THC per kilogram than a person would be.
In humans, a standard dose is 10 milligrams of THC. However, patients with serious medical conditions like Parkinson’s Disease or cancer are known to take upward of a gram of full extract cannabis oil every day. Unfortunately, there are no studies to test whether or not these dosages anti-aging effects in humans.
In the experiment, mice were separated into three different age groups, two, 12, and 18 months.
The researchers found that THC caused memory and learning decline in young mice. In adult mice, however, THC treatment successfully improved the cognitive function of older mice.
Older mice tend to have fewer cannabinoid receptors than young mice. A cannabinoid receptor is a location where THC connects in the body. The study found that chronic THC treatment not only boosted the expression of cannabinoid receptors in old mice, but it restored them to the same levels as young mice.
“The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals,” Prof. Andreas Zimmer stated. Zimmer, of the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bon, is a co-author of the study.
The study also found that THC treatment in old mice inspired some genetic changes. Genetic analysis of the THC-treated mice revealed that the treatment seemed to “switch on” genes that promote plasticity and learning in aging mice. Genes associated with mental decline were switched off.
While the plant is most often associated with young people, there are some very good reasons why this herb will be an excellent partner in old age. The research on the topic thus far is only in its infancy. Yet, there is no doubt that cannabis just keeps getting better with age. So long as you start to consume it as an adult, anyway.