The FDA has approved drugs based on marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, for limited use in some cancer patients, to help combat the nausea and vomiting experienced during chemotherapy treatments. It is limited because the main side-effect, memory loss, is such a concern. Little has been known about the molecular underpinnings of the memory impairments caused by marijuana. But a recent discovery by researchers at the Louisiana University Health Sciences Center has found a way to stop the memory loss side effect.
“Our studies have solved the longtime mystery of how marijuana causes neuronal and memory impairments,” lead investigator Chu Chen said Thursday in a statement. “The results suggest that the use of medical marijuana could be broadened if patients concurrently take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen.”
The memory loss that comes from using THC-based therapies is the result of an increase in the enzyme COX-2 in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Ibuprofen can lower COX-2 levels, thus preventing the memory loss. This not only works for patients taking THC therapies, but it can also work to prevent the neurological damage from Alzheimer’s Disease, opening up possibilities for treatments for other neurological diseases.
“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 [delta-9-THC] for the treatment of intractable medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Chen reported.
Alzheimer’s is a common form of dementia that is a neurodegenerative disease that eventually progresses toward death. First reported in the early 20th century it currently affects 26.2 million people around the world and is predicted to strike 1 in 85 people by 2050.
Why does any of this matter to a person with substance use disorderion treatment center? Because we are always interested in the science that helps people recover…for addiction or any illness. No drug is to be vilified. Prescription pain killers, for example, are appropriate for some people at some times. Medically used THC is no different. Any medication that can bring an end to suffering should be researched and clinical trials conducted when appropriate. Our goal in addiction treatment is to help those with addiction recover and help educate physicians as to the dangers of addiction where it exists, not deny access to medication to those in need.