Scientists discover how THC affects the brain and a common over-the-counter pill could reduce unwanted cognitive side effects.
Twenty U.S. states and the District of Columbia now allow for medical marijuana to be used as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, from chronic pain to anxiety.
While the use of marijuana is becoming more widely accepted for medical purposes, it still has drawbacks, including learning and short-term memory problems. These side effects have been one of the major hurdles preventing medical marijuana’s wider adoption, and they’re one reason the American Medical Association (AMA) rejected a proposal earlier this week to take a more neutral stance on the full legalization of the drug.
But a new study published in the journal Cell shows there are ways to avoid the memory “haze” associated with using marijuana. Researchers say the solution may be as simple as looking into your medicine cabinet.
The main active ingredient in marijuana is Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved drugs based on THC to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. The drugs aren’t approved for other uses, mainly due to additional side effects.
Chu Chen, professor of otorhinolaryngology and neuroscience at Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine, says that scientists now know how THC affects the body on the molecular level, so unwanted side effects can be reduced.
What’s the secret? Ibuprofen.
“Our studies have solved the longtime mystery of how marijuana causes neuronal and memory impairments,” Chen said in a press release. “The results suggest that the use of medical marijuana could be broadened if patients concurrently take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen.”
Chen and his team discovered that THC treatments increase the levels of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in the in a mouse’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain where memories are formed.
Coincidentally—or perhaps not—they also found that drugs that reduced the levels of COX-2 in the mice prevented the memory problems typically caused by repeated use to THC.
This makes Chen believe that an easy strategy to combat the short- and long-term memory effects of marijuana could be as easy as taking a few doses of ibuprofen.
There are currently no effective strategies to combat the destructive effects of Alzheimer’s disease in brain tissue. Studies have shown that even the best anti-dementia drugs can do nothing to halt the progressive nature of the disease.
But during the study, Chen says, the combination of THC and COX-2 was able to reduce the neuronal damage in mice genetically engineered to mimic Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our results suggest that the unwanted side effects of cannabis could be eliminated or reduced, while retaining its beneficial effects, by administering a COX-2 inhibitor along with Δ9-THC for the treatment of intractable medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Chen said.