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Medical Marijuana's Memory Paradox

  1. Jan 11, 2009 #1
    Marijuana isn't known for being a friend to memory; its short-term effects notoriously impair recall. And although the data is conflicting, some studies link cannabis with memory deficits in those who use excessive doses for long periods of time

    But new research suggests that one of the active ingredients in marijuana—THC—and similar compounds could possibly prevent or even reverse one of the most devastating memory disorders of all: Alzheimer's disease.

    In a paper published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that a compound that affects the same brain receptors as THC reduced brain inflammation and improved memory in older rats. (The rodents were the human equivalent of age 65 to 70.) Although there's debate over the role played by inflammation in Alzheimer's, many researchers believe it's an important part of the process that causes dementia.

    "We were shocked and surprised that it worked," says Gary Wenk, Ph.D., one of the study's authors and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University.

    Wenk and his colleagues traced the anti-inflammatory effect of the compound (which has the awkward name "WIN-55,212-2") to its activation of cannabinoid receptors on brain cells—the same receptors activated by THC.

    Other anti-inflammatory compounds studied in rats and humans like NSAID drugs (ibuprofen, etc.) showed effects on young brains, but unlike WIN-55,212-2 did not improve aged brains.

    Wenk has also found in these older rats that the WIN-55,212-2 compound promotes the growth of new brain cells—a process that declines and may even stop in older animals. "The most amazing thing we saw was that it re-initiates neurogenesis—usually, the only drugs that do that are the SSRI antidepressants [selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, the class of drugs that includes Prozac]."

    Timing is everything

    How could a drug that clearly impairs memory while people are under its influence function to protect users' recall in the long term? Wenk theorizes that this could be due to differences in the way young and old brains learn.

    Research shows that the neurotransmitter glutamate is involved in storing memory in a process that involves growing both new cells and connections between them, and destroying old ones. Some current Alzheimer's drugs like memantine affect glutamate—as does THC.

    Early in life, this process is in balance, and so interfering with either the growth or the "pruning back" of brain cells and connections—as might occur from using marijuana—might impair memory. But, says Wenk, "The same systems involved in pruning neurons at the beginning of life could be killing them at the end." Therefore, interfering with the pruning process later in life might actually help, rather than harm.

    No need for a high

    Rest assured, Wenk and his colleagues aren't advocating a stoner lifestyle.

    Because WIN-55,212-2, like THC, produces a high, the researchers looked for the lowest effective dose. They estimate that that dose is the equivalent to just one toke of marijuana. "A puff is enough," Wenk says.

    Though that dose wouldn't get someone high, it could, admittedly, have some psychoactive effect. But this wouldn't necessarily rule out medical use. The drug could be taken before bedtime, for example. And with long-term use, tolerance to these psychoactive effects can develop, so impairment might be minimal with a steady dose anyway.

    Cannabis research is controversial

    To find out if THC has a protective effect on humans, scientists could study marijuana smokers as they age. If the theory holds, such users might be expected to develop Alzheimer's disease at lower rates than non-users—although the timing and extent of use would almost certainly also matter.

    Given the controversy that would likely arise if a protective effect were to be discovered, however, no one has funded the epidemiological studies that would be needed to show this.

    It's even hard to get experimental research published, according to Kim Janda, Professor of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in California. In 2006, he published a paper demonstrating that THC interfered with another process implicated in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease: the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and fibrils.

    Janda's THC research was rejected by several big-name journals and eventually published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology; it's now one of his most frequently cited articles by fellow scientists. Unfortunately, the article was also denounced in the press by the likes of Rush Limbaugh as an example of politicized science by hidden supporters of legalization—despite the fact that Janda also works on anti-cocaine addiction vaccines.

    Although Janda would like to investigate further, he currently does not have grants to enable him to do so.

    Why further marijuana studies should be funded

    Bill Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific Officer of the Alzheimer's Association, says of Wenk's research, "The authors of the paper make the case that one way to modulate the inflammatory reaction is to activate cannabinoid receptors. I think that's perfectly reasonable basic science."

    Thies notes, however, that it's a long way from basic science to a usable drug, and pleads for a rational discussion. "The issue of marijuana is highly emotional and political and the minute it's put in context of legalizing marijuana, the discussion loses all sensible aspects."

    Don Abrams, M.D., chief of hematology/oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, has studied medical marijuana use in people with HIV for more than a decade. He says, "I think the safety profile of marijuana compares very favorably to many other prescribed drugs," noting that there have not been any reported overdoses, and that most research does not support a link between smoking the drug and lung cancer (which may be because marijuana users tend to not smoke nearly as much as cigarette smokers).

    "Cannabis is anti-inflammatory and it is also an antioxidant, and those are two things that we seek in treating neurodegenerative disorders," he says, "It's there, it's in nature, if the research does find that it has these benefits, why not take advantage of it?"

    With five million Americans currently living with Alzheimer's and no highly effective treatment or prevention method known, any promising lead—even one as politically fraught as marijuana and related synthetics—could be worth following.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2009 #2
    Would you please post the link?
  4. Jan 11, 2009 #3
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  5. Jan 11, 2009 #4
    I am most surprised at the apparent latent hypocrisy regarding this relatively harmless substance.

    It is obvious ( at least to me ) that marijuana is a far lesser evil or danger to the body than the legal alcohol or tobacco products distributed for general consumption.

    Why does the stigma continue to exist?

    I know testimonials are not readily accepted as fact, or even considered as a discussion consideration, but after 35+ years of casual smoking of marijuana I really can not see the 'why', to why it is still lumped into the 'war on drugs' .
    The above research has got to open some doors and minds that the unreal stigmas like 'Reefer Madness' films would have us believe, should be reexamined with less prejudice.

    It should be obvious that I am pro-decriminalization of this substance and think the people that use this 'recreational' substance should not be in our jails.

    ( I realize that my opinions may have just deviated from the 'medical forum' discussion guidelines enough to have this topic removed or moved to another area. If this is the case, I apologize and hope that it is merely relocated as opposed to closed. )

    I have offered this topic to a few sites and have received a very wide range of diverse responses.
    It is obviously a controvertible topic. I look here to find the most reasoned responses.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2009
  6. Jan 11, 2009 #5


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    A discussion of medical studies is allowed. A discussion of using illegal substances is not.
  7. Jan 11, 2009 #6
    I find myself in a quandary Evo.
    Where should a discussion that uses medical studies to debunk misconceptions about a drug or claims to show some beneficial properties of a substance that is currently listed as illegal be conducted?

    I would suppose that this particular drug should be in a political arena but I was hoping that a discussion about the validity of the study posted would be appropriate.
    It seems that the subject is touchy no matter where presented.

    I understand the objection of anyone advocating the use of anything while still in the books as a controlled substance but sooner or later it (pot and it's derivatives , IMO ) should be contested for it's currently persevered values or harms, as well as the penalties involved for possession of small quantities. ( a debatable topic on it's own based on the viewpoint of different countries )
    The obvious comparisons are tobacco and alcohol in terms of it's harmful or addictive properties but more and more studies ( as alluded to in the OP ) seem to indicate that marijuana has potential benefits and it is just possible ( IMO ) may have been given a bad rap by forces that want nothing more than the control of its salable profits.

    If this drug is indeed a useful treatment for a debilitating disease then it should be shouted from every venue available, and damned be those that hold it back due to antiquated beliefs.

    It's your call, but I for one would like to see an open, unfettered voice by members as to their opinions on this topic and all it's inevitable spin offs .

    With great respect
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 11, 2009
  8. Jan 11, 2009 #7
  9. Jan 11, 2009 #8
    If you think about it, what do major potheads have in common?

    1) Lack of Job or ambition to work a regular job

    2) Lack of wanting to sign up for the military.

    I think these two reasons may have something to do with the federal attitude about pot. For example, in Arcata, or Humboldt State, the percentage of people who join the military are of the lowest in the entire nation. Then you look at what Humboldt State is known for: Environmentalists, activists, vegetarians.
  10. Jan 11, 2009 #9
    I object to your labels. I find them to be offensive and false.
    And you have obviously not. I stated that I am an occational user for thirty five years, I have also;
    (1 ) worked since I was 14. That would be forty plus years minus the few times I was laid off or took time to re-enter school for upgrading of my skills. I am an Engineering Technologist (ret.). I now operate a school bus run to keep busy.
    (2) spent three years in the Canadian version of weekend warriors raising to the rank of Corporal, and I determined that I am just not cut out to take orders. Thanks, but I prefer to think for myself and am not suitable as a mindless drone in some army/gang. I do not believe in the taking of lives to solve any conflict.

    That comment has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Your labels, seem to me, to be an attempt to do nothing more than perpetuate the erroneous myths about people that enjoy the short term effects of smoking pot, as well as totally ignoring the possible benefits that are pointed out in the article originally posted.

    Where, when and from whom did you learn your particular myths about 'pot smokers'?
    Think about it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 11, 2009
  11. Jan 11, 2009 #10
    the fact that the brain has cannabinoid receptors is proof enough that research into such drugs is legitimate. but you guys are talking politics.
  12. Jan 11, 2009 #11


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    Let's not pretend here.

    If you could take a pill containing the active ingredients of cannabis with no side effects, no "high", just for medicinal use, is that what you would you want? It sounds to me like you want to smoke pot for the "high" it produces.

    If it had no effect on your senses and was only available in pill form for an illness, is that what you'd agree to? I don't think so.

    Seriously, I have not seen anyone advocate marijuana as a medicine only, non intoxicating, non-smoking use of the drug. Would you agree to stop smoking it if it was a pill with no intoxicating side effects? Honestly, what would you take the pills for? I don't go for the "oh it has medicinal properties" BS. It has medicinal properties, but that's not why smokers want it legalized. Puhlease.

    Also, this is a site for homework help. I would think it would be obvious that we would not allow discussion of illegal recreational use of a drug that could get us blocked from students.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  13. Jan 11, 2009 #12


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    Just to be clear on what Evo said: you are walking on a thin line regarding our rules here, which allow for purely medical and scientific effects of substances, but which forbid discussions which might be interpreted as encouraging illegal actions.

    As to our policy here:
    PF has a core ambition, which is to discuss "standard" sciences, mainly for educational and recreational purposes - actually mainly in the physical sciences, but over the years, the subject material got broader. In order to keep focussed on that core activity, and not to take away efforts from staff and potential troubles for the owner, a set of rules evolved. To some, they can seem to be speech limiting, and in fact they are in a certain respect. For instance, we don't allow "original research" outside of the "independent research" forum, which can seem staggering to people who come to a science forum (and which sometimes even leads to disputes amongst staff...). However, that (somewhat unfortunate) rule is there simply because otherwise we're swampted with crackpots. If there weren't so many crackpots out there, we could have allowed "independent research". But we had to choose, and so we made a (rather hard) rule that no independent research (outside of one forum) is allowed. That is because otherwise it endangers our core activity. It doesn't mean that we are "integrists of the scientific establishment" as we are regularly accused of. It was simply the cleanest way to get done with a swamping flood of crackpottery (and indeed, the price is that some interesting discussions get cut short).

    In the same way, we don't allow for any religious debate (apart from a philosophical or historical perspective). Again because it brings in too much trouble, and leads us away from our core activity. It doesn't mean that we are all die-hard atheists who want to burn any person holding religious ideas on the stake. It is simply again a rule which makes life simpler to focus on our main activity.

    And in the same way, we keep away from anything which has even the slightest bit of illegality to it. It would be too bad if PF got problems or its owner got problems simply because something crossed the line somewhere. We err on the safe side, simply because it is again a way to keep focussed on our main activity. Again, it doesn't mean that all of us are die-hard purists who have all strong ideas on the matter. It is that we want to keep miles away from "hey, if you want some stuff, PM me and we can see what we can do for you", and have legal action on our backs.

    So, especially in the med. sciences forum, keep the discussion to medical effects.
  14. Jan 11, 2009 #13


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    Evo's right, but there's a bigger issue: Whether THC can be a viable drug or not, the pot legalization stuff is still a non sequitur. Plenty of drugs that have great benefits are still controlled substances, so whether pot should be legal or not doesn't have anything at all to do with whether THC would be a viable drug. You are trying to leverage one for the purpose of the other and it just doesn't make logical sense. That post of yours has nothing at all to do with "these misconceptions."

    This is probably the most common pot legalization argument people make and it is just silly. Who do you guys think you are kidding?
  15. Jan 11, 2009 #14
    In many states, pot is legal.

    There is no way of getting medicinal effects out of THC without a high, THC is what gets you high. You can eat it, smoke it, doesn't matter, still gets you high.

    I think that it should be legal for medicinal use. But, as it is, the medical use of it extends to everything from headaches to insomnia to backaches to pain to depression to cancer and everything in between. People open up business in prescribing pot to people, and thats it. They charge about 150 dollars a month for a card that will permit you to buy, possess, grow, and even sell pot. They generally don't turn people down, and most people that get them just want to grow it.

    Then there are regular doctors who prescribe it in more pure form. A friends mother I know is sick, and the doctors prescribed her some kind of drug with a funny name, and the active ingredient is THC. My friend didn't even tell her what it was because she would have objected, but in her condition it is actually very helpful.

    I think that it should be legal for a doctor to prescribe it, but doctors who make a business out of prescriptions and pass them out to anyone with 150 dollars should be shutdown.
  16. Jan 11, 2009 #15
    If you notice, I said heavy pot smokers. And I never said lack of a job period. I said lack of a job or ambition to have a regular job. You cited yourself as evidence to the contrary, but then later stated that you are not cut out to follow orders, or be a mindless drone. That was exactly what I was talking about. You sound like the type of person who wouldn't settle for some mindless tedious job taking orders. And it may be coincidence, but places where the pot culture is prevalent tend to be areas with low military recruitment.

    From my experience, it seams to make my mind wander. I get creative, but I can't really control my focused attention. I get projects in mind, maybe music, maybe building something, maybe something artistic. Never while I am stoned do I think, Man, I really feel like filling out forms. But, someone has got to fill forms out. The last thing that the government needs is a country of artists and musicians who object in protest to mindless droneism.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2009
  17. Jan 11, 2009 #16
    yeah, the medical uses of it are probably abused. and i would support its use as an antiemetic in say cancer patients. terminal illnesses are a bad place to fight political wars.

    but your statement about it being legal in some states omits the fact that it is still a violation of federal law. and whether you think that is a Constitutional violation of States' rights, the feds can and will arrest you.
  18. Jan 12, 2009 #17


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  19. Jan 12, 2009 #18


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    Research is being done on the medicinal properties of marijuana (I personally know someone who has a company doing the research), what's so strange about that? We should stick to the scientific data.

    Pseudoephedrine (nasal decongestant) is a controlled substance in the Netherlands because it is a precursor for metamphetamine synthesis, in the US it is an over-the-counter drug. Regulations don't always make sense.
  20. Jan 12, 2009 #19
    from : http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20050223/marijuana-ingredient-may-help-alzheimers

    Will the testing become easier using human subjects.
    Is it possible that Marijuana, being fairly well know for it's side effects already could be bumped up the testing ladder through rats to humans in clinical trials.
    Or it it the policies to follow a certain testing regime regardless of the substance?
  21. Jan 12, 2009 #20
    I have never smoked pot, but many of my friends especially in college did. What I find particularly disingenuous is the position that all of the pro-leagalization peopel offer. That pot has *NO* negative side effects, potential or otherwise! Certainly, this is not to be believed. Soy, another "natural" product has been shown to have negative aspects... why not pot?

    I'd like for a a pro-pot person to show some impartiality and list the cons.
  22. Jan 12, 2009 #21


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    If there are beneficial health effects, the effective ingredients should be isolated and tested for their health benefits and side effects: that's how you make prescription/over-the-counter drugs.
  23. Jan 12, 2009 #22
    I have been warned that this is not the appropriate venue for such discussions.

    I like the idea that a common substance may just be the good thing to help with a very nasty disease. My mother is starting to show symptoms of Alzheimer's, though she insists it's still 'some-timers' as in she finds her memory lapses to only be some times and it's not because she's an old-timer.
    I find it funny, in that she has had a 'do not decriminalize' stance, for her reasons, for many, many years, but when I told her of the possibilities that the drug may help her she was quite interested.

    ( for sercyrus - one of the cons is that it takes some trust that one won't be called upon to have do something that requires all faculties while under the influence. Much like alcohol. )
  24. Jan 12, 2009 #23
    That's not a con, that's a comparison!

    List the medical sideeffects. i don't beleive the "perpetual motion" theory of pot!
  25. Jan 12, 2009 #24


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    Let's call it by the real name: cannabis or marijuana.

    Here is a systematic review: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=2413308&blobtype=pdf" [Broken] published in 2008.
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  26. Jan 12, 2009 #25


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    Yes, and I believe that this is being done, as you mentioned.

    It's the people smoking it for pleasure and saying recreational use of it should be legal because it could have benefits if the active ingredients could be made into a medcine that I find blowing smoke, so to speak. :wink:
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