It’s fair to say that U.S. culture obsesses over youthfulness. But it’s certainly not the only one. Dreams of immortality and everlasting youth have been a part of the popular imagination for millennia, and the quest continues today. Yet while most anti-aging products out there target the signs of aging that affect your body, a new cannabis study suggests a daily dose of THC can actually reverse the aging of the brain.
This Is Your Brain on Cannabis
Teams from the University of Bonn and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a leader in medical cannabis research, came together to study how daily micro-doses of THC effected the aging process of brain cells.
Their subjects were mice, not humans. But the results were remarkable. Of course, mice don’t live nearly as long as we do and their brains are much simpler. But they do live long enough and are complex enough that researchers can observe the effects of aging.
When the brain ages, it slows down. Older people literally get “slower”. The nerve impulses and transmissions take longer to reach their destinations. As a result, as we age our brains begin to lose cognitive functions like memory, the ability to learn new things, and motor coordination.
But with a little help from a daily dose of THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, researchers found that many of those functions can be temporarily and significantly restored.
In short, THC helped turn old brains into young brains again. Or in the words of Professor Andreas Zimmer, “The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals.”
Regular Low-Doses of THC Can Boost Memory and Learning
In the study, researchers used mice of different age groups. The mice performed memory, recognition, and navigation tasks.
The younger mice completed the tasks with no problems when they were “sober,” not under the influence of THC. Presumably, this is because their younger brains were sharper. However, when researchers began giving the young mice a daily dose of THC, they began to significantly struggle with the puzzles.
The story was the complete opposite with the older mice. They struggled with the challenges without THC. But a daily dose of THC soon began to dramatically increase their brain performance, up to the same level as the younger mice.
Specifically, the study said that in terms of memory and learning, the older mice were able to “regress to the state of a two-month-old mouse.”
Scientists Hope Daily Dose of THC Will Slow Or Reverse The Aging of the Human Brain
These findings, while still at the level of animal testing, show significant promise for aging humans.
Co-authors Zimmer and Svenja Schulze believe a THC daily dose could be an effective alternative for treating problems like dementia. They hope to begin trials on humans later this year.
One thing that remains to be seen is whether the psychoactive effects of cannabis will produce different results in humans than in mice. According to the researchers, THC did not appear to influence the mice in the same way as humans.
In other words, the daily dose of THC didn’t make the mice get high. However, there could be other negative side-effects for human brains. The research is of course still in the very early phases.
Restrictions on the legal research of medical cannabis in the United States and the UK have slowed the team’s progress. So it’s unlikely that doctors will be prescribed THC for older folks’ memory problems anytime soon.
Nevertheless, the findings are extremely promising. As researchers discovered, brain health is very closely linked to the endocannabinoid system. Comprised of the neural pathways and receptors specially designed for cannabinoids, that system is essential in preventing brain deterioration. It’s what makes cannabis such an effective medicine for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
Slowing Brain Aging Could Help Save Big on Healthcare Costs
We’ve written elsewhere about how cannabis can help save the United State’s medicare and medicaid programs. That’s because medical cannabis is a safe and cheap alternative to costly prescription drugs.
But if cannabis can help reduce the number of seniors needing care, it can help reduce the country’s healthcare costs even further. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, is very optimistic in this regard. She told the Guardian, “If we can rejuvenate the brain so that everybody gets five to ten more years without needed extra care, then that is more than we could have imagined.”