This Is Your Brain on Weed…

I live in the middle of the world’s biggest “Rocky Mountain High”: Boulder, Colorado. Several years ago, Colorado legalized recreational pot, and the businesses that have sprung up around weed are are growing like weeds. You can now walk down the street and buy everything from marijuana-laced gummy bears to pizza to ice cream. Even crazier, the likes of Doritos and the local Taco Bell have seen a curious spike in sales at 2 a.m.

So with all of this THC being consumed, is there a silver lining or a huge problem mounting? While there’s research on both sides of that argument, I’d like to focus on an interesting study that came across my desk this week. Turns out that if you’re old, getting stoned may help your brain, and if you’re young, you may just end up “stoned.”

The Grand Colorado Social Experiment

I believe we were the first state in the union to legalize and quickly commercialize recreational weed. John Denver was smiling in his grave that night. What has happened since has been fascinating to watch.

First, I was a nerd growing up, so I had little opportunity for exposure to pot. My mom and dad had grown up with the Reefer Madness movies where people smoking weed went on Manson-like killing sprees! You get the picture…

In 2012, when Colorado went recreational, it was a huge experiment. While I’m neither an advocate nor a hater of legalization, I can tell you that it’s added another dimension to raising teens. Just one more thing to worry about as a parent. In the meantime, the research about the effects of THC on the brain has been all over the map. This morning’s entry caught my attention.

The Most Recent “Pot Brain” Study

The study, published this week, explored the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, on the brains of mice in three age groups: 2 months, 12 months, and 18 months. Correlating this to human years, this would roughly be youth, middle-aged, and old-aged respectively. Researchers discovered that in aging mice (in the 12- and 18-month groups) there was an improvement in both mental performance as well as gene activity in the brain: “Here we show that a low dose of…tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reversed the age-related decline in cognitive performance of mice aged 12 and 18 months…THC treatment restored hippocampal gene transcription patterns such that the expression profiles of THC-treated mice aged 12 months closely resembled those of THC-free animals aged 2 months.” Translation? Weed helped grandma think better, and this may have been due to reversing the genetic clock in the brain.

Interestingly, the mice in the young group (2 months) had a much different response to the THC treatments—they experienced a mental decline, behaving similarly to the older mice prior to THC treatment. So the treatments seemed to have a reverse effect on the younger mice!

The upshot? We need to get my mother and mother-in-law stoned, given that both can’t remember what they had for breakfast! In the meantime, the fact that there was a reverse impact on younger mice just gives me one more thing to worry about as a parent in the Mile “High” state!

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Read 18 Comments
    1. Lynne,
      Following that line of reasoning, you’d actually have to wait until they’re senior citizens!

  1. When will insurance companies pay for regenerative medicine. I’m seventy-one years old and I have enough metal in my body to have been called bionic ie: knees, hip, seven vertebrae with rods. They now want to fuse my lumbar spine, my ankles and who knows what! HELP!!!

    1. Richard,
      Goodness, you are like the Bionic Man! What the new Healthcare Bill ends up being could have an impact if what’s best for the patient, and cost savings, are prioritized over the current guidelines like some companies who self insure their employees are considering. But other than that slim chance, insurance coverage will likely take some time. We’d be glad to take a look!

      1. As long as insurance companies are in charge and the biggest lobby next to big pharma, our health insurance is not going to change. Our only hope is that insurance companies will see that they can pay $8,000 for knee stem cell procedure instead of $60,000 for knee replacement and cover it simply on their cost savings. For them it’s all about the money. Always has been, always will be.

  2. I hate marajuana, and DO NOT BELIEVE THAT IT IS ANSWER TO ALL MEDICINES, FOR I AM ALLERGIC, I ALSO THINK SMOKING THIS OR ANYTHING IS BAD FOR LUNGS, I KNOW PPL WHO ABUSE IT AND THEYRE DYSFUNCTIONAL AND MAKE POOR DISCISIONS, SO NO MARAJUANA IS NO SUBSTITUTE, ITS JUST A EXCUSE TO BE HIGH, DRIVING UNDER INFLUANCE IS IGNORT AS WELL

    1. Summer,
      The active ingredients in marijuana are only one small area of research looking into whether the changes of aging in the brain are reversible, or treatable in more effective ways than we currently have. You’re correct, smoking anything is bad for your lungs. The marijuana sold today is more than double the strength of years ago, so users do need to be aware of the effects on decision making, driving ability, memory, etc. The hope is that research being done all over the world, looking at all different things will answer those questions and lead to breakthroughs in how to create more targeted and effective medications and treatments in the future.

    1. Rod,
      Yes, Cannabinoids like Marijuana can cause stem cells to promote bone formation over cartilage, which is not what we want, so should be avoided pre and post treatment.

  3. Do you know what the pain relieving and therapeutic properties or actions are of the topical preparations made from the plant? My husband visited a dispensary while we were in Colorado recently for the novelty of it and said that he was quite impressed with the medicinal uses. I believe that they explained to him that the THC was taken out, so I am wondering what they use. He said they had topicals and other things for cancer, nausea, MS, bone and joint, headaches, etc. Thanks!

    1. Juliana,
      It is a phenomenon all unto itself! In theory, the compound from the Cannibas plant in the preparations being sold would be CBD (Cannabiniol), which is a different component of the plant than THC and is nonpsychoactive. Of course, what’s actually in the peparations, unless tested, is unknown. While previously, Cannabis plants were bred to acheive the highest levels of THC (20% comapred to the 6-8% when we were young), plants for these preparations are bred for low THC. Please see: https://www.regenexx.com/stem-cell-supplements/

    1. Bridgette,
      Great question! Some of the Pros: Cannabidiol (CBD) is a different compound than THC and is nonpsychoactive, meaning it does not get you high nor produce the negative effects associated with THC. Many people have found it to be really helpful in a wide variety of areas, as unlike THC whose main receptors are in the brain, CBD receptors are more widely spread throughout the body. Some of the Cons: We don’t know, more than we do know. There is research going on but it’s in its early stages. The challenge is since so many areas of the body are affected by CBD, it’s more difficult to study. Finding reputable providers is crucial, because as we found when testing supplements, what’s stated on a bottle is not necessarily what’s in it. In this case, unintended ingestion of unidentified quantities of THC could have different consequences than less Vitamin C than stated on the bottle!

  4. In the last 6 months, it has become apparent that my 81 year old mother was using a patch illegally brought into our state from Colorado. I removed the patches from her refrigerator, along with syringes of labeled as CBD oil and had the patches tested for substance. My concern was for the possibility of fentanyl and the known changes in personality caused by chronic use. The testing revealed Delta 9 THC.
    I did not have the patches tested for dosage, just substance ( much more expensive to test amount). Part of her problems were extreme anxiety and anger towards all. I took her to a Neurologist who prescribed Aricept.
    So, after 3 months of no THC or CBD and taking the Aricept, her anger and anxiety is gone, she is knowledgeable and accepting of her more stable situation and has increased cognitive function overall. She still has episodes of confusion usually after a long day but she seems very happy overall.
    Did removing the THC cause the changes? Did the THC exacerbate her Alzhiemer’s? Did the Aricept cause this drastic improvement? Could it be due to a combination of all of the above as well as an increase in the stability of her environment? I don’t know but I am angry with the person who gave my 80 year old mother THC based on a study about rats with no medical supervision. I also understand that this improvement is most likely temporary.
    I do welcome more research into the effects of both THC and CBD. I am sure there is much knowledge to be obtained for the future but I cannot justify giving Mom THC.
    Thank you for this thought provoking article as well as the information presented on other topics.

    1. Scotia,
      Your Mother is VERY lucky to have you! The answer, unfortunately, is we don’t know specifically what did what, but it’s logical to conclude that your intervention turned things around. There is much research to be done and as Einstein once said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

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