Scientists have found that an ingredient in marijuana can restore the memory of mice with Alzheimer’s disease back to normal levels.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the major components in cannabis. However, unlike THC, CBD is non-psychoactive and actually seems to counteract the marijuana high.
Now a team from Neuroscience Research Australia has published the first evidence suggesting that CBD may reverse some of the cognitive impairments of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Tim Karl and his colleagues found that, when given CBD, mice bred to mimic Alzheimer’s showed drastic improvements in tests involving the recognition of objects and other mice. Patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease tend to forget familiar faces, along with symptoms of more widespread memory loss, the team notes.
The results were presented at the Australian Neuroscience Society’s 2013 annual meeting and were published this week in Psychopharmacology.
“It basically brings the performance of the animals back to the level of healthy animals,” Dr. Karl told The Sydney Morning Herald in an interview. “You could say it cured them, but we will have to go back and look at their brains to be sure.”
The researchers believe cannabidiol’s anti-inflammatory properties may combat what underlies the disease. A “decrease in neuroinflammation will decrease neurodegeneration, one of the main factors in Alzheimer’s disease,” explained Dr. Karl in an email.
“Furthermore, CBD has anti-oxidant and neuroprotective effects, which suggests that it might have potential as an early multi-modal drug target,” he notes, adding: “more comprehensive research must be carried out to evaluate CBD’s role in Alzheimer’s disease in detail.”
According to the team, CBD did not appear to cause any side effects in the mice and has been shown in other studies to promote the growth of new brain cells – a process known as neurogenesis.
While there have been case reports of improvements in Alzheimer’s patients who smoke cannabis, the researchers say the study was the first to investigate the treatment in a lab.
The next step is to examine the brains of mice and see if they also show physical improvements after CBD treatment.
Interestingly, researchers in Spain are using marijuana-like compounds to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease as well.