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Lack of Marijuana Pathways Could Make Alzheimer’s Worse, Study Finds

By on September 6, 2013
A loss of marijuana pathways in the brain may worsen memory and learning in Alzheimer's.

A loss of marijuana pathways in the brain may contribute to memory and learning problems in Alzheimer’s disease – The potential for marijuana to treat Alzheimer’s may seem almost unthinkable, but a number of studies provide support for the idea.

Now a team of German scientists has found evidence that a lack of marijuana pathways in the brain may contribute to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

These pathways – known as cannabinoid receptors (or CB1 receptors) – are found throughout the brain and are responsible for the high that marijuana gives. The researchers concluded that targeting these pathways may be effective at reversing some of the cognitive problems in patients with Alzheimer’s.

Their results will be published in the November journal of Neurobiology of Aging.

“The findings indicate that CB1 deficiency can worsen AD-related [Alzheimer's Disease-related] cognitive deficits and support a potential role of CB1 as a pharmacologic target.”

CB1 receptors are part of the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which also include naturally produced chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana. These chemicals, called cannabinoids, regulate a wide variety of cognitive functions.

In the study, researchers compared rats with Alzheimer’s and found that those with a loss of CB1 receptors had more severe problems with learning and memory. They also had lower body weights and higher rates of premature death.

Other studies have identified lower levels of CB1 receptors among human subjects with Alzheimer’s, suggesting that this may be a natural effect of the disease.

What’s more, previous animal studies have found marijuana-based treatments effective at reversing both the symptoms and underlying factors of Alzheimer’s.

Despite its promise, human trials of marijuana have yet to be conducted, even as the disease becomes increasingly common.

Without a breakthrough in treatment, the number of Alzheimer’s cases are expected to triple over the next 50 years.

The study was published ahead of print and received funded from the DFG research group.

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