One of the main arguments against the use of medical marijuana has been its debilitating effect on memory and cognitive ability. However a new study published in the journal Cell suggests a simple way to prevent those side effects could be as easy as taking ibuprofen or other widely used painkillers.
“Our studies have solved the longtime mystery of how marijuana causes neuronal and memory impairments,” says senior author Chu Chen, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. “The results suggest that the use of medical marijuana could be broadened if patients concurrently take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug such as ibuprofen.”
In experiments on laboratory mice, Chen and a team of researchers discovered the molecular pathways responsible for marijuana-induced learning and memory problems. The researchers found they could lessen or prevent those side effects if THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was taken with either ibuprofen or Celebrex, a prescription pain reliever that acts as a COX-2 inhibitor.
They hope to duplicate the tests on humans in the near future.
“We discovered in this study that pharmacological or genetic inhibition of COX-2 eliminates or attenuates synaptic and memory impairments elicited by repeated THC exposure, suggesting that these major adverse effects of cannabis on synaptic and cognitive function can be eliminated by COX-2 inhibition, which would broaden the use of medical marijuana,” the researchers wrote.
Marijuana has been used for thousands of years to treat chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer, seizures, nausea, anorexia, and inflammatory and neuro-degenerative diseases. However, the undesirable psychological and cognitive side effects from long-term use of marijuana have greatly limited its medical use.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved no medications to prevent or treat memory-related disorders caused by cannabis.
Another intriguing discovery from the research is that THC reduced neural brain damage in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease — and the beneficial effect persisted when the mice were treated with a COX-2 inhibitor.
“There are no effective medications currently available for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease or halting disease progression,” Chen says. “Our results suggest that the unwanted side effects of cannabis could be eliminated or reduced, while retaining its beneficial effects, by administering a COX-2 inhibitor along with Delta-THC for the treatment of intractable medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
Chen says a THC-based drug called Marinol could be useful in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s. Marinol is currently prescribed to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, but some people don’t like the confusion and memory loss it can cause. Chen believes those side effects could be prevented with a COX-2 inhibitor or NSAIDs.