Baby Boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, make up 69.9 million people in the United States, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, making them the second-largest population in the country.
As Baby Boomers age and medical marijuana becomes more accessible due to state laws, cannabis use for older adults is at an all-time high. Research on the effects of cannabis on aging cells has become an in-demand topic.
Because of early studies done on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), more data is available on those two cannabis compounds than some of the other 400 chemical entities and more than 100 different cannabinoids making up the cannabis plant.
Age is a major risk factor for the following neurodegenerative diseases: mild cognitive impairment, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, cerebrovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The findings of a new study by Salk scientists show how cannabinol (CBN) can protect nerve cells from oxidative damage, a major pathway to cell death. The study, published online in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, suggest CBN has the potential for treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
“We’ve found that cannabinol protects neurons from oxidative stress and cell death, two of the major contributors to Alzheimer’s,” says senior author Pamela Maher, a research professor and head of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory. “This discovery could one day lead to the development of new therapeutics for treating this disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.”
Maher’s team also studied the process of oxytosis, also called ferroptosis, which other studies indicate occurs in the aging brain. Growing evidence suggests that oxytosis may be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, scientists treated nerve cells with CBN and then introduced an agent to stimulate oxidative damage. They discovered that the CBN worked to protect the mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells, within the neurons. In damaged and untreated cells from subjects who already had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they curl into a donut shape from oxidation. However, cells treated with CBN showed no signs of oxidation or curling and continued to function as before.
The diseases of an aging brain may all be influenced by cannabis. Here’s what the research shows:
Mild Cognitive Impairment – Early results from studies on elderly mice indicate that small doses of THC can actually improve cognitive function. In another study, CBD was found to have no impact on cognitive decline in older adults, either positive or negative.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – As detailed above, studies have shown that cannabis use can actually protect mitochondrial cells from oxytosis, a major contributor to Alzheimer’s.
Cerebrovascular disease – This refers to a group of conditions that affect blood flow and the blood vessels in the brain including stenosis, thrombosis, and embolism. In a study in the 2013 British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, medical cannabis proved to positively affect the cardiovascular system where these issues occur. CBD has direct actions on isolated arteries, causing both acute and time-dependent vasorelaxation believed to be caused by the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects of CBD.
Parkinson’s disease – A study conducted in Germany in 2017 revealed that the use of medical cannabis can reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in some patients.
Lou Gehrig’s disease – One survey found that cannabis may be effective at reducing certain symptoms including appetite loss, pain, depression, spasticity, and drooling. It did not appear to be effective for treating speaking and swallowing troubles.
While laws are changing to allow more research without fear of arrest or litigation, much more research needs to be done. But, as the research becomes more abundant and accessible, the healing properties that can be found in cannabis and the reaction of cannabis in our bodies with the endocannabinoid system that we are all born with is very promising.
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