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Marijuana Can Be Good For Your Brain, Say Experts

Marijuana and brain

Advocates of medical marijuana may have another health benefit to add to the growing list of advantages of the drug. Experts found that extremely low doses of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient can be good for the brain, but don’t light up just yet.

What’s good about marijuana?

The psychoactive component in marijuana, called THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), can impact the brain in various ways. One is the euphoric or calming effect experienced by people who use it for recreational purposes, although some individuals report feeling anxious or depressed. In both cases, THC has an effect on mood and the neurotransmitters in the brain.

THC also has been shown to be responsible for pain relief associated with cancer, multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, and surgery. In some of the studies, researchers have been looking for evidence that THC and marijuana may be neuroprotective; that is, it can be beneficial for the brain.

Now in a new study, Professor Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University’s Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine now reports that marijuana has neuroprotective characteristics. The study appears in the journals Behavioural Brain Reseach and Experimental Brain Research.

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For those who are wary of the use of THC, Sarne’s study found that the use of extremely low doses of the substance, up to 10,000 times less than what is in a normal marijuana joint, was effective in protecting the brain. Specifically, the mouse study results showed that:

  • THC administered 1 to 7 days before or 1 to 3 days after brain trauma to the mice helped biochemical activities responsible for protecting the brain cells and preserving cognitive function
  • Mice that received THC either before or after exposure to brain trauma had elevated levels of neuroprotective chemicals when compared with mice not treated with THC but exposed to brain trauma
  • THC use prevented cells from dying, promoted growth factors, and had an effect on cell signaling
  • Mice treated with THC performed better on tests for memory and learning than animals not treated

The authors concluded that administration of THC could protect the brain from long-term damage associated with various types of brain trauma, such as seizures, use of toxic substances, and lack of oxygen to the brain. Sarne even suggested use of marijuana could help prevent brain injury, as in cases of surgery when use of a heart-lung device might interfere with blood supply to the brain.

Other medicinal uses of marijuana
This use of marijuana (THC) differs from some of the other medicinal purposes already being pursued. For example:

  • People with inflammatory bowel disease (e.g., Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis) may experience some symptom relief from using marijuana, according to recent research. In this case, symptom relief may be related to cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana
  • Numerous studies have shown that marijuana, used in a variety of ways, can help relieve pain, relieve muscle stiffness, and improve range of motion in people who have multiple sclerosis
  • Research indicates that two substances in marijuana (THCV and cannabidiol) can fight obesity in type 2 diabetes by suppressing appetite and increasing the number of calories burned
  • Some individuals who have bipolar disorder have been helped by using marijuana, which improved their memory, verbal fluency, and attention
  • Marijuana has been shown to reduce the impact of chronic pain, including neuropathic pain associated with type 2 diabetes and other diseases

The new findings from Tel Aviv University add to the growing arsenal of evidence surrounding the use of medicinal marijuana. Along with research regarding the use of marijuana and THC in brain trauma, Sarne is also pursuing investigation into use of low doses of THC to prevent heart damage.

Braga RJ et al. Cognitive and clinical outcomes associated with cannabis use in patients with bipolar I disorder. Psychiatry Research 2012. DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2012.05.025
Lahat A et al. Impact of cannabis treatment on the quality of life, weight and clinical disease activity in inflammatory bowel disease patients: a pilot prospective study. Digestion 2012; 85(1): 1-8
Tel Aviv University
Zajicek JP et al. Multiple sclerosis and extract of cannabis: results of the MUSEC trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry 2012; 83:1125-32

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