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MaryJane the wacky weed: Good for Alzheimer's?

By Walter Armstrong

THC, the ingredient in marijuana responsible for reefer madness, may prove to be the best treatment for Alzheimer's disease, according to a new report in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics. It's estimated that the disease, with its devastating loss of thought, memory and language, afflicts 5 percent of folks 65 to 74 and as many as half of those over 85. The news that the banned herb benefits brittle brains may send senior citizens out into the streets to join nausea-suffering AIDS and cancer activists to demand its legalization.

In test-tube studies by researcher Kim Janda, PhD, of California's Scripps Institute, THC zapped a key enzyme that causes the buildup of the brain-damaging clumps and tangles of protein that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's. And it did so at as remarkable rate, clocking an 80 percent to 90 percent more powerful punch than double doses of the two top Alzheimer's drugs.

Although the cause of Alzheimer's remains unknown, genetic factors are likely central. But as with so many other medical conditions, diet, exercise and healthy living can play an important role in reducing your risk. Recent additional studies into Alzheimer's suggest that drinking red wine and eating low-calorie, low-carb meals may each offer some protection against the disease.

In studies in mice, a diet low in calories and carbs blocked the same plaque-packing enzyme that the THC targeted. Red wine, for its part, contains high concentrations of an antioxidant called resveratrol, a chemical in the grape skin showing an impressive array of possible health benefits, including the ability to reduce brain plaque by a novel molecular mechanism. Research into resveratrol's role in fighting cancers, viruses and other conditions is red-hot right now.

As for research into medical cannabis, state and federal laws against possessing the wacky weed make studies difficult, to say the least. The Bush administration has been especially aggressive in closing down pot-for-patients clubs in California, New York and Washington state, even when cities and states have authorized its use.