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Medical marijuana ingredient prevents brain damage in mice

May 31, 2013|By Geoffrey Mohan
  • An Israeli researcher has found that tiny doses of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana helps the brain of mice combat injury.
An Israeli researcher has found that tiny doses of the psychoactive chemical… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)

The words “marijuana” and “brain damage” usually go in that order in medical literature. An Israeli researcher has flipped them around, finding that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, may arrest some forms of brain damage in mice.

The loco weed already is favored by those who suffer from chronic diseases, not to mention fans of Cypress Hill, Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead.

But pharmacologist Josef Sarne of Tel Aviv University found that a minuscule amount of tetrahydrocannabinol may protect the brain after injuries from seizures, toxic drug exposure or a lack of oxygen.

The amounts wouldn’t qualify as much more than a second-hand whiff of kine bud – the quantity of THC is an order of 1,000 to 10,000 lower than that in a whole spliff.

The new dope on marijuana was published in Behavioural Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research, which are professional journals, not nicknames for HempCon or Burning Man.

Other researchers didn’t tend to Bogart the joint as much. They suggested using high -- their word --  doses within about half an hour after such injury. Sarne would spread a smaller dose over as much as a week.

The chemical is thought to jump-start biochemical processes that protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function.

Researchers injected mice with a low dose of THC either before or after exposing them to brain trauma. Fellow rodents in a control group got their brains bonked without the dose.

About a month or two later, the mice that got the THC treatment performed better in behavioral tests measuring learning and memory and showed they had greater amounts of neuroprotective chemicals than the control-group mice.

Oddly, it may be brain damage on a small scale that causes the brain to shift into protective mode. Researchers theorize the THC causes minute damage to the brain that helps build resistance and triggers protective measures in the face of more severe injury.

The low dose and long window for administering it would have obvious benefits after an injury, but it also could mean that THC can be given prior to a procedure that may carry risk of brain injury, including interruption of blood flow to the brain during surgery. Sarne believes it also could be safe for regular use among epileptics.

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