For many people — especially people raised in the 1960s — the typical marijuana user was represented in movies and TV shows as young, slightly disheveled, and somewhat confused.
But would you believe us if we said it can actually reverse aging in the brain of older users?
While it hasn’t been proven in humans yet, a German study on both young and old mice revealed that the effect of the drug on older brains is much different from that of younger ones. The drug is known for its psychoactive effects, but when given to older mice, it had a much different impact — it reversed age-related decline in the brain.
The study’s researchers dosed young mice with THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana responsible for the “high.” As expected, the young creatures’ memory and learning were impaired. They had a harder time learning the location of a safe platform or recognizing a mouse they had already met.
But interestingly, older mice performed better on the same tests when they’d ingested THC. In fact, the memories of older mice who consumed the drug rivaled that of the young, sober mice.
Why the high
To understand why this happened, researchers started looking at the brains of the mice that they tested.
The elderly mice that were given marijuana had more synaptic spines, or points of contact for communication between the neurons, in their brain’s hippocampus. Their brains after using THC looked similar to the brains of the untreated, younger mice.
Digging deeper into the brain mechanics behind the improvement, the THC actually mimics the mice’s endogenous cannabinoids, compounds that are responsible for moderating neural activity and maintaining homeostasis in the brain. As we age, these compounds start to decline, but when given THC, the brain is tricked into thinking it has additional endogenous cannabinoids.
Before you stock up on brownies, remember: This process has yet to be tested on humans.
The aging population has become more interested in marijuana, in general, though. A 2017 study showed that in people aged 50 to 64, marijuana use increased almost 60% between 2006 and 2013, and in those older than 65 , usage jumped by a whopping 250%.
So, if THC really is an anti-ager for the brain, some older people are already well on their way to a younger brain.