Can Cannabis Improve Brain Function?

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Have you ever been called lazy and unmotivated for being a stoner? Now you can argue against statements like that. Research shows the opposite effects on the human brain. Read on to fully understand how and why this happens.

As a society, we’re still far away from moving past the cliché stoner stigma. The average cannabis consumer is currently viewed as lazy and unmotivated. A lot of people still believe that cannabis reduces neuron presence in the human brain. We’re here to prove this wrong.

NEUROGENESIS

The term neurogenesis refers to the development and growth of neurons. Although most active while we’re developing in the womb, this process still occurs into adulthood. This was only discovered in the 60’s. Up until then, neurogenesis was thought to stagnate when we’re born.

Joseph Altman injected rats with a radioactive label that attaches to any newly formed DNA strands. Altman’s results displayed the formation of new neurons in the brain. These were limited to certain areas like the hippocampus. The experiment wasn’t given enough credit at the time.

Only in the 1980’s was it replicated by Fernando Nottebohm. He came to the same conclusion, but was also able to prove that the cells could conduct electricity. This meant that they had to be nerve cells. But yet again, due to the technology of the time, this couldn’t be thoroughly examined. Only in 1998 did solid scientific evidence appear regarding neurogenesis in adult human brains.

Since then, there have been many new discoveries regarding this process. In 2005, a study proved that exercise helped boost neurogenesis, therefore proving that neurogenesis can be regulated by external factors. Enter cannabis in all its glory.

THE ROLE OF CANNABIS

Knowing that the endocannabinoid system is more brilliant and complex than we can still understand, research has continued to expand the boundaries of what cannabis can do for humanity.

In a 2007 study, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Complutense University in Madrid stated, “Recent findings have demonstrated the presence of a functional endocannabinoid system in neural progenitor cells that participate in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation.”

This leads us to the conclusion that cannabis does indeed influence neurogenesis. When THC binds to CB1 receptors in the brain and central nervous system, something extraordinary happens. This process stops neuro-inflammation and the release of inflammatory chemicals. With this much help, the body may fight off neurodegenerative diseases more effectively.

Cannabinoids will also work as antiaging molecules and can trigger areas capable of modulating neural activity. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for maintaining a balance within our body. When it notes there is an excess of neural activity, it works toward reducing this.

CANNABIS’ EFFECTS ON THE ELDERLY BRAIN

With the notion that the endocannabinoid system has the power to alter a lot of our brain chemistry, we start to see its potential. Research is increasingly focussing on cannabis and its benefits. A study published in 2017 by Andreas Zimmer and his team from the University of Bonn in Germany did exactly that. The team looked into the effects of THC in young, mature, and old mice. They studied how the cannabinoid effects the brain in relation to age. What they found was revolutionary.

Zimmer gave low doses of THC to “elderly” mice aged 12-18 months. This reversed the age-related decline in cognitive performance. It might be a difficult idea to grasp, but it’s a real-life Benjamin Button scenario happening in the brains of these mice. Besides the improved cognitive performance, they also saw an enhanced expression of synaptic marker proteins. These are the points of communication between neurons.

Further, increased hippocampal spine density was observed. This was proven when the elderly mice injected with THC performed similarly well to the young, THC-free mice. Zimmer and his team stated that the gene profile of the hippocampus transcription closely resembled that of THC-free, 2-month old mice.

Although this might inspire many to think immortality is an option, we’re still very far away from that. A lot of research is still necessary. What we know for now is too little to determine what practical implications this might have on the everyday person. Cannabinoids, terpenes, and other molecules are still being explored by the medical community and showing great results on certain conditions. Let’s dive deeper into an example of that.

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

This is a progressive brain disorder that causes memory loss and can seriously affect one’s ability to function normally. It’s a leading cause of death expected to triple in the next 50 years. Affecting more than five million people in the US alone, according to the National Institutes of Health, Alzheimer’s is the main cause of dementia. This is a scary disease, but a paper published by authors from the University of California in San Diego and the Salk Institute have brought exciting discoveries.

Amyloid beta, a toxic protein, is responsible for the appearance of Alzheimer’s symptoms. They accumulate within the ageing nerve cells in the brain. The full degree of involvement of amyloid beta is still not clear, but the association is. The paper studied how THC tackled the presence of this protein in the brain. The senior author David Schubert stated, “Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells.”

This is a great development in using cannabis to prevent such a horrible disease. Hopefully, new applications will appear in the near future.

HOW CANNABIS MAY HELP PREVENT BRAIN DAMAGE

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can cause severe chronic symptoms from an external blow to the head. This can also happen from the accumulation of multiple blows to the skull, but of less intensity. Cannabis has been shown to be effective in numerous neurological conditions, and this may be one too.

We’ve seen that cannabis can reduce inflammation by reducing the presence of amyloid beta. But the neuroprotective antioxidants in the cannabis plant also help with this. A study by Tel Aviv University concluded that low doses of THC did indeed work against inflammation and swelling in the brain of mice.

Another paper in 2013 further indulged in the idea that the endocannabinoid system plays a very important role in the brain’s ability to repair itself. Even the US government holds a patent on the use of CBD as a neuroprotective agent. They admit that cannabis can indeed work to decrease damage from head and brain trauma, strokes, and even oxygen deprivation.

There is also evidence that marijuana can even work as a preventative measure. Having a little CBD included in your diet may be a smart thing to do, especially if you’re involved in sports or any other physically-demanding activity. People who partake in these will be more likely to suffer traumas and CBD could reduce the negative impact of them.

There is a lot of evidence regarding the ameliorative relationship between traumatic brain injury and cannabis, but it’s mostly anecdotal. People who have tried it stand by it, but further clinical trials are required before a full-scale medicine can enter the market.

MENTAL FUNCTIONS

Now that we know cannabis does not cause cognitive decline, we can start to reconsider other things we thought we knew. As part of a larger longitudinal study, The Harvard Medical School assessed the impact of 3 months of marijuana treatment on executive function. They explored whether cannabis patients would note an improvement in cognitive functioning.

24 patients completed baseline executive function assessments. Results suggest that the patients treated with cannabis experienced improvement on measures of executive functioning. These included the Stroop Colour Word Test and Trail Making Test. They reflected an increased speed in completing tasks without a loss of accuracy.

Besides being assessed, patients had to fill in self-report questionnaires. On these, the subjects indicated a moderate improvement in their clinical state, better quality of sleep, fewer symptoms of depression, and even positive changes in a few aspects regarding their quality of life. Furthermore, patients reported a significant reduction in the quantity of conventional pharmaceuticals consumed. Opiate use declined more than 42%, which is extraordinary.

Information is pointing us in the right direction. The increasing number of published papers and studies conducted is amazing to witness. We can only hope this continues to increase as time goes by and the legalization spread expands. Hopefully, you’re more informed regarding what cannabis can do for us as a species, because it certainly holds a lot of potential.

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