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Latest buzz: Marijuana may slow progression of Alzheimer's disease

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- New evidence in rats suggests that marijuana may contain compounds that slow the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Marijuana has strong anti-inflammatory effects, and many researchers believe that there is a compelling link between chronic inflammation and the progression of Alzheimer's, said Gary Wenk, a study co-author and a professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

"Inflammation in the brain is part of aging," Wenk said. "It happens to almost all of us as we age. But in some cases, this inflammation gets out of hand and causes serious damage."

Treatment with a synthetic compound similar to marijuana reduced inflammation in older rats in addition to making the animals "smarter," said Wenk, who is also a professor of neuroscience and molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics.

"The compound substantially improved the memories of the older rats," he said. "These animals were able to hold on to key details of a specific task. Untreated older rats, on the other hand, were not."

The researchers presented their findings October 18 in Atlanta at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting.

Evidence suggests that people who regularly smoked marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s rarely develop Alzheimer's disease, said Wenk, adding that researchers are eager to develop a drug with the anti-inflammatory properties of marijuana, but without the drug's psychoactive effects.

The colleagues treated young and old rats with WIN-55212-2 (WIN), a synthetic drug similar to marijuana. While the compound improved memory and helped to control inflammation, it is not a candidate for use in humans because it still contains substances that could trigger a high.

"We don't use marijuana in our experiments because we're trying to find a compound that isn't psychoactive," Wenk said. "And using synthetic compounds may eventually help us to separate the beneficial effe
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Contact: Gary Wenk
Wenk.6@osu.edu
Ohio State University
18-Oct-2006


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