May 30, 2013
Marijuana May Help Protect, Heal The Brain
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
A new study from Tel Aviv University has found that THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, can protect the brain from cognitive damage, especially following injury. Medical marijuana has been found to be beneficial in treating pain, insomnia and lack of appetite, but this study has found that THC also helps the brain protect itself before and after an injury.
Professor Yosef Sarne at Tel Aviv University's Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine discovered this as he was performing experiments to discover the biological makeup of marijuana and tested his hypothesis on lab mice. His results are published in the journals Behavioural Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research.
According to Professor Sarne, only a very small dose of THC is needed to protect the brain from long term cognitive damage brought on by injury, seizures, or even damage from toxic drugs. Without this barrier of protection, brains are susceptible to cognitive defects and neurological damage.
This isn´t the first time THC has been found to protect brain cells. Previous research observed that, when administered 30 minutes before or after a brain injury, the psychoactive chemical could create a protective effect on the brain´s cells. Professor Sarne´s research, however found that the same benefits could be achieved if small doses of THC can be administered up to seven days before an injury or three days after. Only a small amount of THC is needed, which is about 1,000 to 10,000 times smaller than the amount found in a joint.
The basis of this discovery lies in cell signaling. The research team discovered that when administered, THC signals the cells to begin growing and even prevents cell death. To test their theory, Professor Sarne and team injected lab mice with very low doses of THC both before and after subjecting them to brain trauma. One group of mice was used as a control and was subjected to the trauma without any THC.
Three to seven weeks later, the researchers ran tests on the mice as they looked for signs of brain damage. Those mice that received a low dose of THC performed much better in these tests than the control group of mice that received no treatment. What´s more, the THC group of mice also had more neuroprotective chemicals in their system brought on by their treatment than the control group.
This treatment almost acts as an immunization to brain damage, although the drug has been found to cause minute brain damage. In small doses, THC conditions the brain to prepare for injury and build up its resistance. When used in the long term, this treatment could continue to protect the brain from any cognitive damage.
While it may sound difficult to predict when a person might experience brain trauma, Professor Sarne says there are several practical ways in which this treatment could be used to protect the brain. For instance, Sarne discovered this treatment protects the brain from injuries that occur due to lack of oxygen.
The machines used during open-heart surgery carry the risk of interrupting the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain. According to Professor Sarne, THC could be administered before this invasive surgery as a preventative measure. It´s long-term effects could also make it useful for those who have encountered a head injury in sports or vehicle accidents, and it´s low dosage is safe for people at high risk for heart attacks or even epileptics.