Marijuana may be just what the doctor ordered—for your Grandma.
Scientists at UCSD and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have recently found that one of many cannabinoids, THC, can remove the toxic buildup in our brains that has been linked to various types of dementia.
As we age, proteins (like amyloid beta) grow into a plaque on our brains’ nerve cells. This intra- and extracellular buildup leads to an observed elevation in central nervous system inflammation and, thus, an increase in disease as we age. Scientists at Salk have been testing the basis of this inflammatory response to protein buildup in the hopes of finding effective preventative measures. The brain is an amazingly complex organ that often evades simple medical solutions, so it’s exciting that this study found that cannabinoids are one way to block the inflammation resulting from this buildup in our neurons, which, untreated, ultimately leads to nerve cell death in our brains.
Whether or not you take interest in cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana), its popularity is growing as legislation begins to mirror the needs and sentiments of U.S. voters. Unfortunately, it is currently a Schedule 1 substance, which bars any research that may shed light on useful medical applications—like its proven medicinal effects on those with autism, PTSD and TBIs. But this is slowly changing! In a historic move, the DEA granted approval for the first clinical trial in history to study the effects of cannabis on war veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD. The study will be led by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the group responsible for transforming veterans’ lives through MDMA and other psychedelic therapies.
Hopefully, DEA’s approval for the first-ever cannabis treatment will lead to more frequent study of cannabis and, therefore, rescheduling, because there’s clearly something amiss in the drug industry regarding the classification of cannabis. CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, questions America’s treatment and classification of cannabis. He explored the “politics of pot” in 2014, questioning why the U.S. has held a patent (Patent No. 6630507) since 2003 for the very benefits its classification as a Schedule I substance denies. Cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants that limit the neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke or trauma. If cannabis has proven medical benefits that warrant a patent, how can it remain on the list of most tightly controlled substances in the country? Fact: cocaine and methamphetamines are actually more available to patients, doctors and researchers because they are Schedule II substances with recognized medical benefits. Gupta has requested interviews with the DEA multiple times in light of these contradictions, and the DEA has reportedly denied Gupta’s questions each and every time.
Families all across the country have left jobs, homes and friends behind to get the medicine that relieves their suffering. Why is this medicine so difficult for patients to get? Even if people try to secure cannabis prescriptions for a form of dementia, it can only be legally acquired in 25 states (and some states only allows doctors to give recommendations, not prescriptions). Furthermore, it’s not guaranteed that the most efficient formula or administration method for your specific disease will be available across all 25 states due to the medicine’s Schedule I status. How can we know how to use the medicine if its scheduling renders scientific study illegal? Constituents of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) even think scheduling should be loosened for research.
Gupta recently wrote that “a true and productive scientific journey involves a willingness to let go of established notions and get at the truth, even if it is uncomfortable [. . .]”. I agree wholeheartedly. And we’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re to discover the most beneficial methods and uses for this medicine we can’t seem to schedule according to its proven scientific benefits.
Early trials are showing cannabis can prevent dementia, and studies are showing cannabis benefits all kinds of patients with a wide variety of medical demands. But there’s not much doctors and scientists can do if the DEA won’t reschedule this medicine according to its proven medical use, according to the advice of the DEA’s own administrative law judge as early as 1988.