Older people who use pot may have better memory and cognitive function than those who don’t, a new study shows.
German research published in Nature Medicine suggests that low doses of THC help improve brain function in elderly men and women, unlike the stereotypical youthful pot smoker whose brain seems to move at a snail’s pace.
Young mice treated with THC performed slightly worse on behavioral tests of memory and learning; they had a harder time recognizing another mouse to which they had previously been exposed.
The mature mice, though, were different. After receiving THC, the elderly animals’ performances improved to the point that they resembled those of young, untreated mice. One of the researchers called the effects “very robust, very profound.”
As Susan Weiss, director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the magazine:
“This well-designed set of experiments shows that chronic THC pretreatment appears to restore a significant level of diminished cognitive performance in older mice, while corroborating the opposite effect among young mice. While it would be tempting to presume the relevance of these findings [extends] to aging humans…further research will be critically needed.”
Researchers noticed neurons in the a brain area critical for learning and memory had sprouted more synaptic spines in the older mice who had consumed weed. Even more surprising, the older animals under THC’s influence looked similar to the young, untreated control mice.
The findings raise the intriguing possibility THC and other “cannabinoids” might act as anti-aging molecules in the brain. Research has shown the cannabinoid system develops gradually during childhood. As we age, it’s on a steady decline.
Marijuana use among seniors has skyrocketed as the drug’s stigma has dissolved with legalization in some states. One study showed that in people aged 50 to 64, marijuana use increased nearly 60 percent between 2006 and 2013. And among adults over 65, the drug’s use jumped by 250 percent.
The scientists plan to explore the potential impact of THC on older human brains with a clinical trial later this year, being one of few to focus on more aged subjects so far. Previous research with mice by the Universities of Bonn and Mainz also suggested that “the brain’s main cannabis receptor and neural pathways are closely related to brain health in later life, and seem to play a role in preventing brain degeneration when active,” according to Forbes.
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