Marijuana’s Memory Paradox

Are pot smokers less likely to get Alzheimer’s? A compound similar to the active ingredient in cannabis shows promise as a potential memory protector.

Marijuana isn’t known for being a friend to memory; its short-term effects notoriously impair recall. And although the data is conflicting, some studies link cannabis with memory deficits in those who use excessive doses for long periods of time

But new research suggests that one of the active ingredients in marijuana—THC—and similar compounds could possibly prevent or even reverse one of the most devastating memory disorders of all: Alzheimer’s disease.

In a paper published in the December 2008 issue of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that a compound that affects the same brain receptors as THC reduced brain inflammation and improved memory in older rats. (The rodents were the human equivalent of age 65 to 70.) Although there’s debate over the role played by inflammation in Alzheimer’s, many researchers believe it’s an important part of the process that causes dementia.

“We were shocked and surprised that it worked,” says Gary Wenk, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University.

Wenk and his colleagues traced the anti-inflammatory effect of the compound (which has the awkward name “WIN-55,212-2”) to its activation of cannabinoid receptors on brain cells—the same receptors activated by THC.

Other anti-inflammatory compounds studied in rats and humans like NSAID drugs (ibuprofen, etc.) showed effects on young brains, but unlike WIN-55,212-2 did not improve aged brains.

Wenk has also found in these older rats that the  WIN-55,212-2 compound promotes the growth of new brain cells—a process that declines and may even stop in older animals. “The most amazing thing we saw was that it re-initiates neurogenesis—usually, the only drugs that do that are the SSRI antidepressants [selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, the class of drugs that includes Prozac].”

Timing is everything

How could a drug that clearly impairs memory while people are under its influence function to protect users’ recall in the long term? Wenk theorizes that this could be due to differences in the way young and old brains learn.

Research shows that the neurotransmitter glutamate is involved in storing memory in a process that involves growing both new cells and connections between them, and destroying old ones. Some current Alzheimer’s drugs like memantine affect glutamate—as does THC.

Early in life, this process is in balance, and so interfering with either the growth or the “pruning back” of brain cells and connections—as might occur from using marijuana—might impair memory. But, says Wenk, “The same systems involved in pruning neurons at the beginning of life could be killing them at the end.” Therefore, interfering with the pruning process later in life might actually help, rather than harm.

No need for a high

Rest assured, Wenk and his colleagues aren’t advocating a stoner lifestyle.

Because WIN-55,212-2, like THC, produces a high, the researchers looked for the lowest effective dose. They estimate that that dose is the equivalent to just one toke of marijuana. “A puff is enough,” Wenk says.

Though that dose wouldn’t get someone high, it could, admittedly, have some psychoactive effect. But this wouldn’t necessarily rule out medical use. The drug could be taken before bedtime, for example. And with long-term use, tolerance to these psychoactive effects can develop, so impairment might be minimal with a steady dose anyway.

Cannabis research is controversial

To find out if THC has a protective effect on humans, scientists could study marijuana smokers as they age. If the theory holds, such users might be expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease at lower rates than non-users—although the timing and extent of use would almost certainly also matter.

Given the controversy that would likely arise if a protective effect were to be discovered, however, no one has funded the epidemiological studies that would be needed to show this.

It’s even hard to get experimental research published, according to Kim Janda, Professor of Chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in California. In 2006, he published a paper demonstrating that THC interfered with another process implicated in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease: the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and fibrils.

Janda’s THC research was rejected by several big-name journals and eventually published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology; it’s now one of his most frequently cited articles by fellow scientists. Unfortunately, the article was also denounced in the press by the likes of Rush Limbaugh as an example of politicized science by hidden supporters of legalization—despite the fact that Janda also works on anti-cocaine addiction vaccines.

Although Janda would like to investigate further, he currently does not have grants to enable him to do so.

Why further marijuana studies should be funded

Bill Thies, Ph.D., chief medical and scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, says of Wenk’s research, “The authors of the paper make the case that one way to modulate the inflammatory reaction is to activate cannabinoid receptors. I think that’s perfectly reasonable basic science.”

Thies notes, however, that it’s a long way from basic science to a usable drug, and pleads for a rational discussion. “The issue of marijuana is highly emotional and political and the minute it’s put in context of legalizing marijuana, the discussion loses all sensible aspects.”

Don Abrams, M.D., chief of hematology/oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, has studied medical marijuana use in people with HIV for more than a decade. He says, “I think the safety profile of marijuana compares very favorably to many other prescribed drugs,” noting that there have not been any reported overdoses, and that most research does not support a link between smoking the drug and lung cancer (which may be because marijuana users  tend to not smoke nearly as much as cigarette smokers).

“Cannabis is anti-inflammatory and it is also an antioxidant, and those are two things that we seek in treating neurodegenerative disorders,” he says, “It’s there, it’s in nature, if the research does find that it has these benefits, why not take advantage of it?”

With five million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s and no highly effective treatment or prevention method known, any promising lead—even one as politically fraught as marijuana and related synthetics—could be worth following.



(note from maji-“If I am reading this correctly the cops are just taking the pot and not enforcing the law.. hmmm.. read more like FREE POT BONANZA FOR THE COPS WHILE IT LASTS!!” grin…..)

Boston Globe – Massachusetts officially decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, but many police departments across the state were essentially ignoring the voter-passed law, saying they would not even bother to ticket people they see smoking marijuana. “We’re just basically not enforcing it right now,” said Mark R. Laverdure, chief of police in Clinton, a Central Massachusetts town of about 8,000 residents, who said the law was so poorly written that it cannot be enforced. . . Andrew J. Sluckis Jr., chief of police in Auburn, said his 39 officers would not be issuing $100 citations for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, as required under the ballot initiative . . . “If the Legislature enacts some changes, we’ll be happy to do it in the future, but as it stands now we’re not going to be issuing civil citations,” he said. If an officer spots someone smoking marijuana, he said, “We will confiscate it and the person will be sent on their way.”

Navajos want industrial hemp for cash crop

Story Published: Sep 6, 2000

Editor;s note: Interviews for this story on the potential of an industrial hemp operation on the Navajo Nation were conducted prior to Aug. 24 when agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized thousands of hemp plants on two plots on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Grand jury indictments are expected. The plants were being raised for a building project, meeting requirements of a 1998 Oglala Sioux Tribal ordinance. However, Earl Tulley says that action will have no effect on plans on the Navajo Nation. “The sky is not falling here.”

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo entrepreneurs are urging new Navajo Nation laws to permit cultivation of industrial hemp, citing research showing profits from small-scale farms.

Encouraging the cultivation of hemp as a cash crop, and for Navajo food and clothing, Earl Tulley says, “Hemp is better than the edible egg.

“We’re here. We are people of the Earth, and we want to grow our own economy.”

Tulley said efforts to introduce hemp follow the language of the Navajo Treaty of 1868, which urges self-sufficiency in the cultivation of land and production of clothing.

Pointing out that hemp crops add nitrogen to the soil, Tulley sees multiple possibilities, from producing oil and profitable fibers to establishing a Navajo seed bank.

“It’s going to be better than the casino. It is going to put us back to working. It is going to get us out from in front of the TV and out working the land.”

The Navajo Nation Council recently passed the first of two resolutions necessary for the legal cultivation of hemp. The first resolution changed an existing law that allowed for the legal possession of one ounce of marijuana on the Navajo Nation.

“We had to make sure there is zero tolerance,” Tulley said.

Changing the law was necessary for the protection of small businessmen who want to avoid confusion about the purpose of growing industrial hemp. “We wanted to put people at ease. This was done for those who think that everyone is going to be out in the cornfields smoking.”

Tulley said the agricultural crop lacks the properties of marijuana used to obtain an altered state of consciousness.

“The way I explain it to my mother is, ‘It’s like blue corn and yellow corn.’ People would have to smoke a cigarette the size of a telephone pole (to get high).”

Tulley, working with Ervin Keeswood, tribal councilman from Hogback, N.M., said the second legislation, now being drafted, will further allow for legal hemp crops.

Christopher Boucher, president of Hempstead Corp., in Laguna Beach, Calif., is a consultant to the Navajos’ proposing hemp cultivation.

Boucher said American Indian tribes could cash in on the $100 million hemp foods industry. The greatest profits are in production and sale of hemp oil for hemp nut butter, shampoo and cosmetics.

“It is ideal for the Navajo Nation. They can develop their own seed and have a plant that grows in their climate.”

Hemp stalk is in demand in the production of a popular horse bedding. The shredded stalk produces anti-bacterial bedding.

“The horses love it,” Boucher says.

Lakotas on Pine Ridge are already cultivating industrial hemp, he said, in hopes the fibers can be used to produce building materials.

“It is a home-based economic endeavor. Most of the developed nations are growing hemp, except for the United States.”

Boucher said the domestic commercial market is ripe because U.S.-based industries now have to purchase hemp products from China, Canada and elsewhere, paying costly tariffs.

Hemp fibers are now in demand by the automotive industry.

After the EPA discovered that the “new car smell” in automobiles was actually a scent from glue pollutants that exceeds allowable standards, Ford Motor Co. switched to hemp for door panel fibers for Mercedes-Benz.

Hemp has exceptional properties, Boucher said.

“The fibers are termite and mold resistant. As a food source, hemp seed is the most perfect essential fatty acid.”

While seeds were once a mainstay of survival, humanity moved away from seeds as food during the past 100 years. The result has been more degenerative diseases such as arthritis and diseases of the heart and kidneys, he said.

“It is essential to life as we know it,” he said of the essential fatty acids.

Further, the seeds have the highest concentration of digestible protein. Although soy is often cited in this category, soy protein is not as digestible as hemp.

In the fields, most pests dislike it. “It is easy to grow and harvest.”

England’s popular Body Shop is a good example of a company that contracts directly with Canadian farmers for hemp products for their lotions and bath products.

Jeff Gain, chairman of the board of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization Corp., is among the hemp advocates.

Pointing out that hemp can be used in everything from rope to car bodies and food and clothing, Gain says, “We must have diversity, crops like hemp that grow without pesticides.”

Boucher said his company is ecology based and views hemp as an alternative for a society polluting its oceans with oil spills.

“Hemp looks like a solution to oil-based economies. We need to go back to agricultural-based economies.”

Tulley, an environmentalist and cofounder of Din? Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment which halted clear-cutting of Navajo forests, says cultivation of hemp could eventually lead to a decrease for the demand of lumber for paper products.

“It can keep us from cutting down our forests.”

He said globally, mankind needs to return to agricultural-based societies.

“The people who control the food, control the world.”


Norm Stamper, Salem News – In early December, Barack Obama invited Americans to participate in an unprecedented, bottom-up approach to government. Visitors to the President-elect’s official website,, were able to submit questions and vote on which questions should take priority for the new administration.

More than a dozen of the top 50 questions called for amending America’s drug policies, with inquiries ranging from availability of doctor-recommended medical marijuana to the economic impact of continuing to arrest and incarcerate millions of people for drug offenses.

The number one vote getter was:

“Q: Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”

Americans got their answer, sort of. A one-sentence response from the President-elect’s transition team:

“A: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.”

Speaking as a 34-year cop with six years as police chief of one of America’s largest cities, I know how much money has been squandered in prosecuting the drug war. Obviously, I’m disappointed and confused by this response.

His silence on the issue can’t be due to fear of political backlash. He and his team must have seen the recent Zogby poll that shows three of four Americans believe the “war on drugs” is a failure. And the Time/CNN poll showing only 19 percent of Americans think we should continue arresting and jailing marijuana users. . .

A legal and regulated drug trade would imprison fewer people and generate substantial new revenues. A recently released Harvard study reports we could boost our economy by at least $76.8 billion a year by ending drug prohibition, and that’s a conservative estimate.

Legalizing and regulating drugs would help Mr. Obama achieve a greater state of security for Americans. It would effectively “take a bite out of” rampant domestic organized crime, which goes well beyond mere domestic street gangsters. And, given that our drug war enriches the coffers of organizations such as the Taliban and al Qaeda, it would dramatically reduce international crime and terrorism. . .

Recent Research on Medical Marijuana

Emerging Clinical Applications For Cannabis & Cannabinoids
A Review of the Recent Scientific Literature, 2000 — 2008

Despite continued political debates regarding the legality of medicinal marijuana, clinical investigations of the therapeutic use of cannabinoids are now more prevalent than at any time in history. A search of the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed website quantifies this fact. A keyword search using the terms “cannabinoids, 1996” reveals just 258 scientific journal articles published on the subject for that year. Perform this same search for the year 2007, and one will find over 3,400 published scientific studies.

While much of the renewed interest in cannabinoid therapeutics is a result of the discovery of the endocannabinoid regulatory system, some of this increased attention is also due to the growing body of testimonials from medicinal cannabis patients and their physicians. Nevertheless, despite this influx of anecdotal reports, much of the modern investigation of medicinal cannabis remains limited to preclinical (animal) studies of individual cannabinoids (e.g. THC or cannabidiol) and/or synthetic cannabinoid agonists (e.g., dronabinol or WIN 55,212-2) rather than clinical trial investigations involving whole plant material. Predictably, because of the US government’s strong public policy stance against any use of cannabis, the bulk of this modern cannabinoid research is taking place outside the United States.

As clinical research into the therapeutic value of cannabinoids has proliferated exponentially, so too has investigators’ understanding of cannabis’ remarkable capability to combat disease. Whereas researchers in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s primarily assessed cannabis’ ability to temporarily alleviate various disease symptoms — such as the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy — scientists today are exploring the potential role of cannabinoids to alter disease progression. Of particular interest, scientists are investigating cannabinoids’ capacity to moderate autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as their role in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease.)

Investigators are also studying the anti-cancer activities of cannabis, as a growing body of preclinical and clinical data concludes that cannabinoids can reduce the spread of specific cancer cells via apoptosis (programmed cell death) and by the inhibition of angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). Arguably, these latter trends represent far broader and more significant applications for cannabinoid therapeutics than researchers could have imagined some thirty or even twenty years ago.


As states continue to approve legislation enabling the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana, more patients with varying disease types are exploring the use of therapeutic cannabis. Many of these patients and their physicians are now discussing this issue for the first time, and are seeking guidance on whether the therapeutic use of cannabis may or may not be appropriate. This report seeks to provide this guidance by summarizing the most recently published scientific research (2000-2008) on the therapeutic use of cannabis and cannabinoids for 17 separate clinical indications:

* Alzheimer’s disease
* Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
* Diabetes mellitus
* Dystonia
* Fibromyalgia
* Gastrointestinal disorders
* Gliomas
* Hepatitis C
* Human Immunodeficiency Virus
* Hypertension
* Incontinence
* Multiple sclerosis
* Osteoporosis
* Pruritis
* Rheumatoid arthritis
* Sleep apnea
* Tourette’s syndrome

In some of these cases, modern science is now affirming longtime anecdotal reports of medicinal cannabis users (e.g., the use of cannabis to alleviate GI disorders). In other cases, this research is highlighting entirely new potential clinical utilities for cannabinoids (e.g., the use of cannabinoids to modify the progression of diabetes.)

The diseases profiled in this report were chosen because patients frequently inquire about the therapeutic use of cannabis to treat these disorders. In addition, many of the indications included in this report may be moderated by cannabis therapy. In several cases, preclinical data indicates that cannabinoids may halt the progression of these diseases in a more efficacious manner than available pharmaceuticals. In virtually all cases, this report is the most thorough and comprehensive review of the recent scientific literature regarding the therapeutic use of cannabis and cannabinoids.

For patients and their physicians, let this report serve as a primer for those who are considering using or recommending medicinal cannabis. For others, let this report serve as an introduction to the broad range of emerging clinical applications for cannabis and its various compounds.

Paul Armentano
Deputy Director
NORML | NORML Foundation
Washington, DC
January 24, 2008

* The author would like to acknowledge Drs. Dale Gieringer, Gregory Carter, Steven Karch, and Mitch Earleywine, as well as NORML interns John Lucy, Christopher Rasmussen, and Rita Bowles, for providing research assistance for this report. The NORML Foundation would also like to acknowledge Dale Gieringer, Paul Kuhn, and Richard Wolfe for their financial contributions toward the publication of this report.

** Important and timely publications such as this are only made possible when concerned citizens become involved with NORML. For more information on joining NORML or making a donation, please visit: Tax deductible donations in support of NORML’s public education campaigns should be made payable to the NORML Foundation.

Members Of Congress Demand An End To Federal Pot Possession Arrests

Members of Congress convened a Capitol Hill press conference in July to demand lawmakers enact legislation to eliminate the government’s authority to arrest and prosecute adults who possess marijuana.  Lawmakers called on colleagues to endorse HR 5843, which sought to remove federal penalties for the possession and non-profit transfer of marijuana by adults.  The legislation was the first proposal introduced in Congress in 30 years to eliminate criminal marijuana penalties.  Read the full story at: