Neuroplasticity is the medical term given to the brain’s ability to adapt and changed based on its environment and experience. The neural networks in the brain can change, organize themselves, and even grow new connections because of its malleability.
It is known that younger brains, such as those of children, are generally more malleable. Their brains are more sensitive to experience compared to those of older adults. Aging causes the brain to degenerate over time, due to the lack of brain cells, leading to disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
However, science tells us that older adults are still capable of experiencing neuroplasticity especially with the help of cannabinoids. Our very own brain contains cannabinoid receptors too, so when we consume cannabinoids, studies show that it can help create new brain cells, forge new synapses, and ensure the viability of existing brain cells.
Certain negative experiences such as stress, trauma, and depression can weaken the synapses in the brain, resulting in impaired memory, learning, and overall plasticity. Meanwhile, physical conditions such as strokes, inflammation (due to diet or exposure to stress), traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and others can also impair the brain’s ability to heal itself and forge new connections.
Again, that’s where cannabis can help. Here’s what the studies have to say.
Cannabinoids Reduce Plaque Proteins Which Leads to Alzheimer’s Disease
A 2016 study conducted by researchers at the La Jolla Salk Institute discovered that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as well as other cannabinoids can help get rid of amyloid beta, a protein considered as toxic because its accumulation can lead to Alzheimer’s disease especially in aging brains. The presence of amyloid beta is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s.
“Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” explains senior author David Schubert.
They also found that high levels of amyloid beta have been linked to cellular inflammation and higher risk for neuron death.
Cannabis Protects Neurons In Injured Brains and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
A 2012 study involved researchers causing injuries on purpose, to the brains of rodent subject. They did this through repeated exposure to MDMA, carbon monoxide, and pentobarbital.
The rodents were administered with one low dose of THC, following the ratio of .002mg per kilogram of body weight. They found that just one low dose was protective against any damage to neurons, which are the cells in the nervous system responsible for transmitting signals and aiding us in memory, thinking, movement, and other cognitive functions.
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A 2019 study that was published in the medical journal, Brain Injury, found that while cannabis use had no impact on the recovery time for those who suffered concussions, it was linked to a reduction in symptom burden especially during the 3rd and 4th weeks following injury.
Additionally, a July 2020 literature review stated that “the use of cannabinoids in TBI increases neurobehavioral function and working memory performance.” They explain that it does this through the “down-regulation of pro-inflammatory markers, edema formation and blood-brain barrier permeability, preventing neuronal cell loss and up-regulating the levels of adherence junction proteins.”
Cannabis Aids In Neurogenesis
Neurogenesis is the name given to the process of creating new brain cells. Neurogenesis plays an important role in improving synaptic plasticity, regulating our moods, and better memory.
There have been several studies proving how cannabis contributes to neurogenesis. In one study out of Italy, scientists discovered that cannabichromene (CBC), one of the lesser known cannabinoids in marijuana, can actually contribute to the growth of brain cells through neurogenesis.
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In another study conducted by researchers from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, they sought to understand how cannabinoids impact the brain. Mice were injected with a synthetic drug called HU210, which is 100 times more potent than THC. A chemical tracer was then used to monitor the growth of any new cells. They found that HU210 was effective in promoting the growth of new brain cells, similar to how antidepressants work. “Most ‘drugs of abuse’ suppress neurogenesis,” says Dr. Zhang, who participated in the study. “Only marijuana promotes neurogenesis.”
Other studies show that cannabidiol (CBD) is just as beneficial as THC for the brain, but both CBD and THC have neurogenic properties. “The pro-neurogenic effects of CBD might explain some of the positive therapeutic features of CBD-based compounds,” report German scientists back in 2010. In addition, CBD and THC have antidepressant properties, as well as other compounds in the cannabis plant, which help humans adapt to exposure to stress and injury.
Cannabis Aids In Healing of Mental Health Disorders
Many mental health disorders are affected by neuroplasticity. For one, post-traumatic stress disorder, which is characterized by recurrent nightmares, severe anxiety, and flashbacks. Trauma can change the actual structure of one’s brain, so there is a physical explanation to the changes in how the brain works.
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Studies show that cannabis can help heal the brain and in doing so, help individuals heal from PTSD. A recent study revealed that CBD can boost blood flow to the brain, and positively affect memory processing. “There is evidence that CBD may help reduce symptoms of psychosis and anxiety. There is some evidence to suggest that CBD may improve memory function,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Michael Bloomfield.
“Additionally, CBD changes how the brain processes emotional memories, which could help to explain its reputed therapeutic effects in PTSD and other psychiatric disorders,” he adds.
With all the valuable mechanisms that cannabis can help the human brain, it certainly is an excellent all-natural way to support our cognitive functions while also healing from emotional distress or brain injury. Making cannabis a part of your wellness regimen is a great way to give your brain the support it needs.
This article originally appeared on Cannabis.net and has been reposted with permission.