Cannabis and the Keys to Aging Gracefully

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When it comes to cannabinoids, age matters. We have talked to Dr. Robert Hashemiyoon about cannabis being a potential anti-aging medicine, and there are several good reasons for this, including …

Could a small amount of THC a day keep dementia at bay?

Regular, low doses of THC boosted memory and learning in older mice, and the endocannabinoid system seems to play an important role in adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus and the lateral ventricles. So, whilst cannabinoids may not be ideal for non-medical use for children and teens, a small amount of cannabis a day when a person gets older may actually help retain memory and aid learning! Dementia, which is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease, may potentially be halted or even possibly prevented by learning how cannabinoids reduce the production of harmful amyloid plaques:

“Several findings indicate that the activation of both CB1 and CB2 receptors by natural or synthetic agonists, at non-psychoactive doses, have beneficial effects in Alzheimer experimental models by reducing the harmful β-amyloid peptide action and tau phosphorylation, as well as by promoting the brain’s intrinsic repair mechanisms. Moreover, endocannabinoid signaling has been demonstrated to modulate numerous concomitant pathological processes, including neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity, mitochondrial dysfunction, and oxidative stress.”

Bone loss …

As our bodies get older, our bones get weaker. Also, the wear-and-tear of general living will likely cause some bone degradation and, whilst exercising will prevent osteoporosis, an imbalance between nutrition and exercise will lead to bone stress injuries and early osteoporosis. Interestingly, cannabinoids may help reverse bone loss as:

“The CB1 receptor is present mainly in skeletal sympathetic nerve terminals, thus regulating the adrenergic tonic restrain of bone formation. CB2 is expressed in osteoblasts and osteoclasts, stimulates bone formation, and inhibits bone resorption … Indeed, in humans, polymorphisms in CNR2, the gene encoding CB2, are strongly associated with postmenopausal osteoporosis. Preclinical studies have shown that a synthetic CB2-specific agonist rescues ovariectomy-induced bone loss. Taken together, the reports on cannabinoid receptors in mice and humans pave the way for the development of 1) diagnostic measures to identify osteoporosis-susceptible polymorphisms in CNR2, and 2) cannabinoid drugs to combat osteoporosis.”

The immune system

“Cannabinoids can modulate both the function and secretion of cytokines from immune cells. Therefore, cannabinoids may be considered for treatment of inflammatory disease.” CBD in particular seems to have anti-inflammatory effects and suppresses T-cell function, making CBD not only potentially great for neurodegenerative disorders, but also organ transplantation. However, this doesn’t mean THC isn’t useful as well – it also may suppress the production of inflammatory Th1 cytokines; and as transplant rejection is thought to be mediated by Th1 cells, suppressing these cells and cytokine production via the use of cannabinoids may give us a new class of immunosuppressive drugs and reduce reliance on other immunosuppressants with nasty side-effects (increased risk of infection, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, trembling, osteoporosis and decrease in muscle function).

Replacing other medications

As we get older, we become more susceptible to any number of illnesses, injuries and diseases. As various health conditions pile up on top of each other, we get prescribed more and more pills. Moreover, these pills can have nasty side-effects and/or interact negatively with other pills, meaning more pills are prescribed. At some point, it is likely that a “maximum threshold” will be reached, where prescribing more pills may well prove to be either completely unnecessary or even harmful. Could cannabinoid-based medications help end this cycle of reliance on prescription pills and prove to be an alternative to many harmful pharmaceutical drugs?

As cannabinoids such as CBD desensitize the liver enzyme, cytochrome P450 (CYP450 – the enzyme responsible for the metabolization of many drugs), they could very well reduce the need to take many other drugs, especially ones such as benzodiazepines. However, it’s possibly cannabis’s potential as a painkiller that could help reduce or replace the need for opioids that’s most talked about, and there’s significant evidence suggesting that cannabinoids could help for the treatment of chronic pain in adults. There is also evidence that cannabinoids may help for conditions such as insomnia, anxiety disorders, fibromyalgia, stroke (cannabinoids may even be used to prevent stroke), irritable bowel disorders and arthritis, amongst many other conditions – many of which are more likely to affect us as we age. This suggests that cannabis may be of particular use for older people.

Skin disorders

Skin disorders of various types are a relatively common occurrence. However, due to the lack of return of investment on developing topicals and salves that treat skin diseases, few pharmaceutical companies develop drugs for them. This means that patients are forced to rely on over-the-counter (OTC) drugs where their efficacy is not proven, or finding alternative forms of healthcare. This means that there may be a huge market for cannabinoids in the treatment of skin conditions, especially as the skin possesses all the elements of the endocannabinoid system (endocannabinoid compounds, cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes involved in the synthesis and metabolism of endocannabinoids). Indeed, there’s long history of using cannabis for skin conditions, and it seems we are only just rediscovering its potential uses.

So, with all this considered, could it be said that cannabis is a “preventative medication”? While I would love to say “Yes”, this cannot be said at the moment. For some very good reasons, the standard of evidence required to say something is “preventative” is quite high. We have to ask, “What condition or conditions are we trying to prevent, and how precisely do cannabinoids help prevent this condition/s after we control for other variables (e.g. diet, exercise, intake of other medications etc.)? Do those using cannabinoid-based medications live significantly longer and healthier lives than those who do not? Are there sections of the population where cannabinoids may be helpful and other sections where it may be harmful, and if so, at what doses?”

Alas, we do not have the evidence to say anything for definite, and what evidence we do have tends to be mostly based on rodents rather than humans. However, to be positive, it does seem that we’re on the edge of developing some very interesting medications and, as data collection methods improve and bigger datasets start coming through, we may actually be able to make headway in developing some actual “preventative” medicines thanks to the use of cannabinoids.

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