Lab studies by researchers from the Scripps Research Institute, showed that THC blocked enzymes that lead to the formation of Alzheimer's plaques in sufferers' brains more current Alzheimer's drugs.
Alzheimer's disease has been found to be the leading cause of dementia among the elderly with about 290,000 Canadians over 65 affected by the disease. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has estimated a doubling of the number of cases over the next two decades with most of the victims being women. Till date no cure has been found for this progressive, degenerative brain disease.
Kim Janda, director of the Worm Institute of Research and Medicine at the institute, said the findings offer "evidence that THC possesses remarkable inhibitory qualities."
"I'm not at all suggesting you smoke pot," said Janda who is working on the development of vaccines against cocaine, nicotine and substances of abuse.
The study authors wrote, "Our results provide a mechanism whereby the THC molecule can directly impact Alzheimer's disease pathology." They also predicted that THC would prove valuable as a model for developing new and more effective drugs to treat the disease.
This is one among the latest studies to suggest the compound that produces a high might also be protective to the brain. Marijuana-like compounds are already being tested in mice against the fatal brain disease ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
People with Alzheimer's have been found to have low levels of acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to be important for learning and memory.
Existing drugs help ease symptoms of the disease by blocking an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine.
Janda's team found THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) also did the same but at lower concentrations. In addition it also "blunted" the formation of fibrils, or long, thread-like fibers that get woven into healthy brain cells, eventually choking them.
The researchers believe they've found a way THC "can directly impact Alzheimer's disease pathology." Their work is published in Molecular Pharmaceutics.