Marijuana Compound Holds Promise for Alzheimer's Disease

Even though the active ingredient in marijuana can be associated with memory impairment, it may slow or halt Alzheimer's disease.

Even though the active ingredient in marijuana can be associated with memory impairment, it may slow or halt Alzheimer’s disease.

Reporting on this seeming paradox in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, University of Southern Florida (USF) researcher Chuanhai Cao, PhD, and colleagues wrote that extremely low levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) appear to reduce production of amyloid beta. Abnormal accumulation of this protein is associated with the memory-robbing disease.

Cao, a neuroscientist at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the USF College of Pharmacy in Tampa, reporting on a preclinical cellular study, said THC “is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor” that works by preventing amyloid beta precursor cells from producing the protein.

At the very low doses of THC used in the study the substance was not toxic, the team wrote.

The next step will be mouse studies, Cao said.

The study is the second Cao has done on novel ways Alzheimer’s might be treated or prevented. In 2012, reporting on a study in that same journal, Cao and other researchers said that drinking caffeinated coffee is associated with a reduced risk of dementia—or at least a delayed onset—in people over age 65.

With researchers at the University of Miami, he found that high blood levels of caffeine in the 124 people studied was associated with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s.