Over a year ago, a team of scientists demonstrated that marijuana improves the memory and learning abilities in aging mice. Why does THC, the plant’s psychoactive ingredient, reverse the aging process? Here is a look at the science.
As we age, it can be more difficult to learn and retain information. We accept that as fact. But imagine a world where people regularly regard marijuana as an effective way to reverse symptoms of aging. It sounds just too good to be real. But some scientists from Germany and Israel believe this may be true, in mice at least.
The subjects were not ordinary lab mice. They used methuselah mice, animals engineered to live to be the human equivalent of 180 years old.
This study was particularly interested in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the group of endogenous receptors in the brains and central nervous systems of all vertebrate animals. Endocannabinoids are the naturally occurring compounds similar to those found in cannabis. The ECS is the reason that we get high from marijuana and why its medical application can be so effective.
ECS activity declines as we age. CB1 receptors, one of two main types of cannabinoid receptors, become less effective. The coupling action between proteins and these receptors is greatly reduced. The CB1 receptor is what is responsible for interacting with THC, the psychotropic compound that marijuana is most famous for.
There is evidence suggesting a link between the ECS and neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders related to aging. While there has never been a proven direct link between the ECS and aging, that is exactly what this mice study sought to examine.
When provided with a low dose of THC the age-related decline of cognitive performance in the methuselah mice was reversed. Sadly, they determined this not through timed trials in a maze or other memory dependent reward games. The brains of the mice were dissected and DNA samples collected and compared with those of their non-exposed peers. Remarkably, their chemical profiles matched that of very young mice. Additionally, they found increased nerve connectivity, the opposite of what happens naturally in the aging process.
Mice study results do not always translate into comparable human trial outcomes. That said, we do share 97.5 percent of working DNA with them, a mere 1 percent less than our cousin, the chimpanzee. So when mice respond to treatment positively in a lab setting, scientists take note.
We no do doubt will hear more about related research and proposed human trials. There is too much to gain to let the results of this study gather dust.