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Marijuana gives clues to memory loss

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Marijuana and memory loss. It’s like an old bad joke. Unfortunately, the truth of it is that the memory impairment caused by marijuana use prevents it from being a suitable choice for medicinal purposes on some kinds of neurological diseases. The drug’s ill effects on working memory, the ability to transiently hold and process information for reasoning, comprehension and learning cannot be risked for people who already suffer from cognitive disorders.

But could the memory impairment be averted? Maybe. It appears that marijuana’s major psychoactive ingredient, THC, has a unique way of hindering memory. It slinks in through the back door by missing neurons and instead acting on the astroglia, the passive support cells long believed to play a secondary role to active neurons.

These new findings offer important new insight into brain function and raise the possibility that marijuana’s benefits for the treatment of pain, seizures and other ailments might someday be attained without hurting memory.

So the astroglia may be more important than they’ve been given credit. They have long been viewed as cells that support, protect and feed neurons for the past 100 to 150 years. But in the last ten years, evidence shows that they play a more important role in forging the connections from one neuron to another.

Researchers discovered that mice which were lacking the receptors on astroglia cells which respond to THC managed to avoid memory loss after being administered the cannabinoid. There may be a way to therapeutically activate the receptors on neurons while leaving the astroglia cells out which means the benefit of THC could be realized while the side effects avoided. It also means a breakthrough for managing memory loss. If other cells could be adjusted in the same way, to avoid memory compromise, it could mean a new treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Source: ScienceDaily, Cell

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