The Lantern, Ohio State University
Issue date: 1/27/09 Section: Campus
A puff a day might keep Alzheimer’s away, according to marijuana research by professor Gary Wenk and associate professor Yannic Marchalant of the Ohio State Department of Psychology.
Wenk’s studies show that a low dosage in the morning of a certain canavanoid, a component in marijuana, reversed memory loss in older rats’ brains. In his study, an experimental group of old rats received a dosage, and a control group of rats did not. The old rats that received the drugs performed better on memory tests, and the drug slowed and prevented brain cell death. However, marijuana had the reverse effect on young rats’ brains, actually impairing mental ability.
Alzheimer’s is a disease unique to humans and the memory loss in the rats was a natural decline, but rat brains are similar enough to human brains to serve as partial models for humans, Wenk said.
Research on marijuana as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease began because of the drug’s success in slowing progression of multiple sclerosis and reducing patients’ pain, Wemk said. Alzheimer’s affects a similar part of the brain that MS does.
Other research has shown that young people who take Advil regularly for arthritis, drink alcohol in moderation or smoke cigarettes reduce their risks of developing Alzheimer’s as they age, but marijuana is the first substance that has worked on older brains in experiments.
Alzheimer’s screening is available for people in their 30s, but it is expensive and many people do not recognize the warning signs. “People get diagnosed [with Alzheimer’s] in their 60s, and they need something now,” Wenk said.
Separating the benefits of marijuana from the high is a problem the researchers encountered, and Wenk said that it might not be possible. “That poses a problem, because you can’t be making people with memory loss high,” he said.
Research involving marijuana or any other illegal drug is controversial, and Wenk’s findings are no exception. He said it is difficult to get work published, and his findings have received criticism that he is advocating a “stoner life,” and praise for contributing to science. MSN, Yahoo and WBNS have all featured his research. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has recently elected Wenk as a fellow for his contributions to Alzheimer’s research. “I am God and I am the devil,” Wenk said.
Graduate student Holly Brothers, who worked on the research with Wenk and Marchalant, said that the scientific community does have sway on policy makers’ decisions on drug use, but it is a slow process. “We accept medical use of cocaine and morphine, which are just as illicit as marijuana and extremely addictive,” she said.
The FDA maintains that marijuana has no medical use. Despite this, 13 states have legalized medical marijuana.
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