Certain cannabinoids may improve brain health. Combining brain-friendly cannabis, along with a brain-healthy lifestyle will allow you to enjoy the wide range of benefits cannabis offers, while maximizing the power of your brain and even reverse current cognitive deficits, creating a brain extraordinaire!
What about those studies saying cannabis kills brain cells?
Some studies show cannabis kills brain cells and some studies show cannabis having no effect on brain cells or cognitive function. So what is the truth and what can one do to protect the brain, just in case?
The truth may lie somewhere between these two opposing views. And those views showing the harmful effects of cannabis may be exaggerated, while those that study and show the medicinal effects may be lacking. According to an article written by Dr. Carl L. Hart, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) funds more than 90 percent of all research on the major recreational drugs. He states its mission is to show the negative effects of drugs while ignoring the positive ones and that scientists seeking research money from NIDA "are well aware of this fact"(Dallas Morning News 2014). Consequently, it is difficult to rely on studies with such a negatively biased perspective. Interestingly despite the goal of NIDA to portray a negative image of cannabis, some NIDA-funded studies ended up showing cannabis has medicinal value despite the intent to find otherwise. Fortunately, other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Israel, home to Professor Raphael Mechoulam, "father of marijuana research," are leading the way on the marijuana research frontier. Hopefully, with continued pressure on the federal government to remove marijuana from its schedule 1 classification, the U.S. may see less restriction on research in the near future.
While it is difficult to really know the extent to which cannabis may be harmful to our brain, we are well aware of many lifestyle factors responsible for cognitive decline. For example, watching TV has been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline by 20 percent. Reading, on the other hand, reduces the risk of cognitive impairment by about five percent (Verghese, Joe, M.D., et al 2003). Other factors such as diet, obesity, and lack of exercise all play a role in promoting impaired brain function. The health of our brain may be a concern for not only cannabis consumers, but for all of us because by the age of 40, we all begin to show signs of cognitive decline, especially if we are not actively taking steps to maintain the health of our brain (Dow, Mike, Dr., 2015).
As a cannabis consumer, you might wonder if you are more susceptible to these declines if you have consumed cannabis regularly over the decades. This may depend upon the strain of cannabis as some of the compounds (cannabinoids) found in cannabis have been shown to have a protective effect on our brain cells while other cannabinoids have been found to have a detrimental effect on the cells of our brain.
Can cannabis be the key to a healthy brain?
Possibly. Certain types of cannabis may actually improve the health of your brain, and could even be categorized as a brain super-food. The key resides in the cannabinoid profile. Regardless of whether you consume cannabis for recreation or for medical purposes, understanding how the major cannabinoids affect your brain may allow you to select the right strain of cannabis for optimal brain function as well as possible reversal of brain dysfunction. The right strain of cannabis along with healthy lifestyle choices will hopefully keep you smart for years to come.
Growing new brain cells
There are two main brain structures involved in learning and short-and long-term memory; the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. The hippocampus is the principal site of neurogenesis which means the growth of new brain cells. Just like a bicep muscle, the exercised brain, will become stronger, larger, and more functional. "Use it or lose it" applies to both our muscles and our brain.
CBD for the love of your brain
The two main cannabinoids are Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Some varieties of cannabis contain predominately CBD while others consist of mainly THC. There are also many other strains that have varying ratios of these two cannabinoids, as well as approximately 83 other cannabinoids, such as CBC, CBG, CBN, and THCV, to name a few.
CBD is the highly medicinal, non-psychoactive (doesn't get you high) cannabinoid and THC is the medicinal, but psychoactive (gets you high) cannabinoid. During the period of prohibition, most strains were bred to maximize THC, coincidentally eliminating CBD, resulting in a very potent, psychoactive strain. The unfortunate side effect of this breeding practice was the creation of a strain of cannabis devoid of its natural and synergistic state of existence; not suitable for many consumers.
THC appears to be the compound responsible for many of the negative side effects of cannabis that some consumers, especially novice users experience, such as acute cardiovascular changes, adverse mental health issues, and cognitive impairment (Shrivastava, Amresh, et al 2011). CBD, however, seems to counter the neurotoxic and other negative physiological effects of THC. (Schiavon, A.P., et al. 2016). In a study looking at grey matter in areas of the brain, it was found that chronic consumption of high THC strains was correlated with less grey matter. Functional MRI studies have shown that the effects of THC are correlated with a decrease in brain activity in the striatum. The striatum plays an important role in planning activities, modulating motor activity (movement), and performing cognitive tasks (Raymond J. M. et al., 2013). Interestingly, some studies show THC and its metabolites can stay in the system for up to 28 days, affecting cognition during this time (Holland, Julie, M.D. 2010). The yin to THC's yang, CBD was shown in a study done in the UK to increase activity in the striatum, canceling out the effect of THC (Bhattacharyya S, Morrison PD, et al. 2010). In one Dutch and three English studies, the effects of CBD on neurological activity was shown to be opposite those of THC, with CBD exerting a dampening effect on THC-induced symptoms (Raymond J. M. et al. 2013). In addition to countering the negative effects of THC, CBD may protect against cognitive decline in chronic cannabis consumption because of its ability to increase the development of new brain cells in the hippocampus (Schiavon, A.P., et al. 2016) as well as being neuroprotective (The National Institute on Drug Abuse 2015).
There are indications CBD may be helpful for neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. CBD may prove to have some role in the treatment or prevention of these diseases as CBD has been shown to have neuroprotective properties in cell cultures as well as in animal models of these diseases as well as several other neurodegenerative diseases, including stroke, glutamate toxicity, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and neurodegeneration caused by alcohol abuse. (The National Institute on Drug Abuse 2015).
There are few or no adverse effects found in CBD and where CBD has been found to have an effect, it is usually in a "positive" direction. Also, tolerance to the effects of CBD does not seem to occur. In addition, CBD is antipsychotic, reduces anxiety, is strongly anti-inflammatory, and a much stronger anti-oxidant than vitamin C or E (Iuvone T., et al. 2015, The National Institute on Drug Abuse 2015, NORML 2008, Raymond J. M. et al. 2013).
Researchers found that cannabis with a high CBD content confers less risk for developing an addiction than cannabis with a low-CBD content (Raymond J. M. et al. 2013).
In 1999 the United States patented CBD as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant (http://www.google.com/patents/US6630507). Yet it remains a "schedule" 1.
What is the ideal ratio of CBD to THC?
This depends upon the needs of the consumer. For those seeking wellness and prevention, perhaps an isolated CBD product, such as a tincture may be useful. More studies need to be done to figure this out, though the most recent research into THC:CBD ratios comes out of the pharmaceutical industry, specifically around GW Pharmaceuticals‘ Sativex, which has a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD. In the clinical trials phase of drug development, researchers examined the effects of THC, CBD, and combination extracts on sleep, pain control, and muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis. They found that 1:1 THC-CBD extracts provided the most therapeutic relief across all categories.
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