Using marijuana gives way to paranoia, and paranoia gives way to frightening Google searches about the long-term effects of marijuana. Up until now, those search results have been less than uplifting. But new research has demonstrated a connection between using marijuana and higher brain function in the elderly and may give insight into how to treat dementia.
This new study was led by Andreas Zimmer from Germany’s University of Bonn. The research, which was recently published in the journal Nature Medicine, divulges the impacts of marijuana on the elderly mouse brain.
According to research from the University of Bonn, THC might help reverse the aging of the elderly brain and fight memory-related diseases like dementia.
Researchers gave mice aged two months, twelve months, and 18 months old THC over the course of a month. Keep in mind, the average lifespan of a mouse is about two years, so the 18-month-old mice are elderly in mice years. The amount of THC administered was relatively small (and reportedly not enough to get the mice high, in the way you’re familiar with.)
While young mice were adversely affected by THC—displaying signs of decreased memory and learning capacities—elderly mice thrived. In fact, it was like turning their brains back in time to their most youthful, and highly functioning age. Connections between brain cells became more active. Memory and learning capacities were boosted. Signs of brain aging were reversed.
“We repeated these experiments many times,” says Zimmer to New Scientist. “It’s a very robust and profound effect.”
These results were discovered by subjecting mice to tests such as complex mazes, and capacity for facial recognition (of other mice they had met before).
But, as Susan Weiss, director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse tells Scientific American, it’s important not to jump to conclusions too fast. While mice are often used for lab tests due to their biological and behavioral similarities to humans, they are, quite simply, not humans. Further research is necessary to find out whether these findings also apply to the human brain.
It’s also important to note that unlike CBD—which has become widely popular for medical use due to its lack of psychoactive properties—the cannabinoid used in this study was THC. This means that if the research findings here can be extrapolated and applied to humans, getting “high” will likely be necessary to reap these potential benefits. Depending on whether or not you enjoy this feeling, this is either a huge benefit or major roadblock to medicinal use.
Still, the study’s findings are remarkable. As Scientific American writes, the result of administering THC to elderly mice was that “neurons in the hippocampus—a brain area critical for learning and memory—had sprouted more synaptic spines, the points of contact for communication between neurons.”
“It’s a quite striking finding,” Says Zimmer to New Scientist.
Researchers see this study opening new avenues for further research into diseases that affect aging brains, like dementia. It’s strange to imagine considering weed usually makes one forgetful and easily confused, but breakthrough research is usually counterintuitive. Hopefully, further research can confirm these theories. Until then, I would hold off on asking your gram and gramps to light one up.