A single treatment with an ultra-low dose of THC can modify brain plasticity
Marijuana is a well-known recreational drug with much of its notoriety and controversy arise from its use as a psychoactive drug, however, scientific research into the therapeutic value has increased within the last ten years revealing cannabis’ remarkable capability to combat disease.
Professor Yosef Sarne, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of Tel Aviv University’s Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine noted that marijuana has neuroprotective qualities as well. Professor Sarne and fellow researchers discovered that ultra-low doses of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects) protects the brain from long-term cognitive damage in the wake of injury from hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply to the cells and tissues of the body), seizures, or toxic drugs. Brain damage can have consequences ranging from mild cognitive deficits (such as memory and thinking skills) to severe neurological damage (such as paralysis of facial muscles).
Past studies have concentrated on injecting high doses of THC within a very short time frame (30 minutes) before or after injury. Professor Sarne’s current research shows that even an ultra-low dose of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is around 1,000 to 10,000 times less than that in a conventional marijuana cigarette, applied 1–7 days before or 1–3 days after the injury can start up the biochemical processes which protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function over time.
According to Professor Sarne this treatment especially in the content of the long time frame for administration and the low dosage, could be applicable to many cases of brain injury and be safer over time.
During experiments on the biology of cannabis, Professor Sarne and fellow researchers had found that low doses of the drug had a significant impact on cell signalling, preventing cell death and promoting growth factors. This discovery led to a series of experiments designed to test the neuroprotective ability of THC in response to various brain injuries.
The research team had injected mice with a single low dose of THC either before or after exposing them to brain trauma and another group of mice with brain damage did not receive the dose of THC. After the initial injury, seven weeks later, the mice that received the THC treatment showed better performance behavioral tests measuring learning and memory. Additionally, biochemical studies showed heightened amounts of neuroprotective chemicals in the treatment group compared to the control group.
The researchers write in their conclusion “These long-lasting effects indicate that a single treatment with an ultra-low dose of THC can modify brain plasticity and induce long-term behavioral and developmental effects in the brain.”
Dr. Sarne explains that one explanation for this result is pre- and post-conditioning, whereby the drug causes minute damage to the brain to build resistance and trigger protective measures in the face of much more severe injury. The low dosage of THC is crucial to initiating this process without causing too much initial damage.
According to Prof. Sarne, there are several practical benefits to this treatment plan. Due to the long therapeutic time window, this treatment can be used not only to treat injury after the fact, but also to prevent injury that might occur in the future. For example, cardiopulmonary heart-lung machines used in open heart surgery carry the risk of interrupting the blood supply to the brain, and the drug can be delivered beforehand as a preventive measure. In addition, the low dosage makes it safe for regular use in patients at constant risk of brain injury, such as epileptics or people at a high risk of heart attack.
Currently, Professor Sarne is collaborating with Professor Edith Hochhause, head of the Division for Cardiac Research, Felsenstein Medical Research Center, Rabin Medical Center, to test the ability of low doses of THC to prevent damage to the heart. Preliminary results indicate that they will find the same protective phenomenon in relation to cardiac ischemia, in which the heart muscle receives insufficient blood flow.
Professor Sarne’s research is published in the journals Behavioural Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research.
Information on medical marijuana in Michigan can be found online at Normal.org
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