At first glance, the phrase “Marijuana reverses memory loss” is about as intuitively correct as “concrete is soft” and “birds live underwater.” Believe it or not, it may be true. A new study out of Germany suggests that not only can Marijuana slow the memory loss associated with aging, it can actually roll it back.
The study, conducted by the University of Bonn, was published in Nature Medicine. The researchers gave mice small doses of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and observed the effect on their memory.
The study addressed three different age brackets of mice – 2 month olds, 12 month olds and 18 month olds, which are at the early, middle and late stages of the average mouse lifespan. They were subjected to multiple experiments involving memory. All the experiments were first run without THC, as a control.
In one interesting test, the three groups of mice were tasked with navigating out of a water maze. Sober, the young mice outperformed the other two age brackets. But after THC was administered, the younger mice were significantly outperformed by the older mice. It’s likely both a reflection of THC’s salutary effect on older brains, and limiting effect on developing ones.
Similarly, in a task where the mice were challenged to find a specific object, the THC-enhanced older mice performed equally as well as the young, sober mice.
An associate professor in clinical neurosciences at Oxford University named Zameel Cader remarked to Newsweek in response to the German study’s findings, that they present “a possible role for that compound in memory and cognition, which is relevant to disorders such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”
The picture gets murkier when it comes to potential medical applications for human memory disorders and aging-related memory loss. Humans are much longer-lived than mice, so it’s ambiguous when, exactly, is the correct time to start administering THC. Testing human subjects is also ethically and technically trickier.
“This is a challenge faced by anyone wanting to develop a therapy for a human disorder such as dementia,” said Cader. “Human lifespan is very extensive. So the question would be, when would be the most appropriate time to give these kinds of medications? Over what period of time do you need to evaluate the effects? In humans, it could be years before an effect is noticed.”
It will likely be many years before science has something like a conclusive answer about how to properly administer THC for memory function. Obviously, unlike other drugs, marijuana is almost as available as alcohol in many parts of the country. As it inches ever closer to total legalization nationwide, the drug’s use is increasing as well. It’s worth noting that while it is popularly believed to have no ill effects on health, reality comes with a few more catches. It is still probably a bad idea for young people to use the drug.