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Can One Pill Reduce the ‘Haze’ of Medical Marijuana Use?

Scientists discover how THC affects the brain and a common over-the-counter pill could reduce unwanted cognitive side effects.

Twenty U.S. states and the District of Columbia now allow for medical marijuana to be used as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, from chronic pain to anxiety.

While the use of marijuana is becoming more widely accepted for medical purposes, it still has drawbacks, including learning and short-term memory problems. These side effects have been one of the major hurdles preventing medical marijuana’s wider adoption, and they’re one reason the American Medical Association (AMA) rejected a proposal earlier this week to take a more neutral stance on the full legalization of the drug.

But a new study published in the journal Cell shows there are ways to avoid the memory “haze” associated with using marijuana. Researchers say the solution may be as simple as looking into your medicine cabinet.

The main active ingredient in marijuana is Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved drugs based on THC to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. The drugs aren’t approved for other uses, mainly due to additional side effects.

Chu Chen, professor of otorhinolaryngology and neuroscience at Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine, says that scientists now know how THC affects the body on the molecular level, so unwanted side effects can be reduced.

What’s the secret? Ibuprofen.

“Our studies have solved the longtime mystery of how marijuana causes neuronal and memory impairments,” Chen said in a press release. “The results suggest that the use of medical marijuana could be broadened if patients concurrently take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen.”

Chen and his team discovered that THC treatments increase the levels of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in the in a mouse’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain where memories are formed.

Coincidentally—or perhaps not—they also found that drugs that reduced the levels of COX-2 in the mice prevented the memory problems typically caused by repeated use to THC.

This makes Chen believe that an easy strategy to combat the short- and long-term memory effects of marijuana could be as easy as taking a few doses of ibuprofen.

There are currently no effective strategies to combat the destructive effects of Alzheimer’s disease in brain tissue. Studies have shown that even the best anti-dementia drugs can do nothing to halt the progressive nature of the disease.

But during the study, Chen says, the combination of THC and COX-2 was able to reduce the neuronal damage in mice genetically engineered to mimic Alzheimer’s disease.

“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 Δ9-THC for the treatment of intractable medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease,” Chen said.

Scientists discover how THC affects the brain and a common over-the-counter pill could reduce unwanted cognitive side effects.

Marijuana with a side of ibuprofen: Buzz-killing Rx for Alzheimer’s?

As a drug, marijuana has certain effects and, depending on why you’re taking it, some side effects. And not everyone wants the whole package. New research finds that for patients who consider weed’s buzz an unwanted side effect, the answer might be as simple as taking an ibuprofen with their tetrahydrocannibinol (or THC).

A study published Thursday in the journal Cell both demonstrates and explains why common anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen and the prescription analgesics indomethacin and celecoxib (marketed as Celebrex), appear to kill marijuana’s buzz and suppress its negative effects on cognition. In so doing, the research may clear the way for marijuana to play a growing role in treating Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

If you want to get high, weed’s ability to mellow you out is the desired effect. But with regular use, marijuana stunts the growth of the tendrils that lash brain cells together and impairs memory and cognitive processing speed. That package of effect-and-side-effect appears to be inseparable.

But marijuana also has a not-so-widely known effect: it calms inflammation in the brain — a hallmark of several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s dementia, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. The problem is that for patients who might benefit from marijuana’s inflammation-dampening effect, both the high and its downstream impact on brain cells and memory are distinctly unhelpful.

That package of effect-and-side-effect, it turns out, can be separated, and the unwanted side effect can be suppressed by inhibiting the induction of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), a complex neurochemical process usually set off by inflammation. To their surprise, the researchers found that the THC in marijuana actually increases the COX-2 process — a finding that would suggest it has both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain.

Add a COX-2 inhibitor to the mix — or even a non-selective COX inhibitor such as ibuprofen — and the anti-inflammatory effects of THC remain. The “buzz,” the lethargy and negative cognitive effects of long-term use, however, are extinguished.

While marijuana is approved for medicinal use in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, THC — marketed as Marinol — is approved for marketing by the Food & Drug Administration only to patients with nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy. The federal agency cites its potential for abuse and its intoxicating side effects as limiting its effectiveness for a wider array of medicinal indications.

The researchers, all from the Louisiana State University’s School of Medicine, conducted a series of experiments on cells in the lab and in mice. To demonstrate the buzz-killing effects of suppressing the COX-2 process, they used mice bred without the gene that enables it, and also suppressed the process with medications.

They also used mice to establish that the mechanics of THC’s anti-inflammatory effects are different from those of its intoxicating effects. Mice bred to develop the beta-amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s disease were given THC and a COX inhibitor over many days, and the researchers watched as the mix of medications reduced amyloid plaques. In the process, they noted the absence of the usual lethargy seen in stoned mice, and of the memory-impairing effects on brain cells that come with chronic use of THC.

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Marijuana with a side of ibuprofen: Buzz-killing Rx for Alzheimer's?