A puff a day might keep Alzheimer’s away, according to marijuana research by professor Gary Wenk and associate professor Yannic Marchalant of the Ohio State Department of Psychology.
Wenk’s studies show that a low dosage in the morning of a certain cannabinoid, a component in marijuana, reversed memory loss in older rats’ brains. In his study, an experimental group of old rats received a dosage, and a control group of rats did not. The old rats that received the drugs performed better on memory tests, and the drug slowed and prevented brain cell death. However, marijuana had the reverse effect on young rats’ brains, actually impairing mental ability.
Alzheimer’s is a disease unique to humans and the memory loss in the rats was a natural decline, but rat brains are similar enough to human brains to serve as partial models for humans, Wenk said.
Research on marijuana as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease began because of the drug’s success in slowing progression of multiple sclerosis and reducing patients’ pain, Wenk said. Alzheimer’s affects a similar part of the brain that MS does.
Other research has shown that young people who take Advil regularly for arthritis, drink alcohol in moderation or smoke cigarettes reduce their risks of developing Alzheimer’s as they age, but marijuana is the first substance that has worked on older brains in experiments.
Alzheimer’s screening is available for people in their 30s, but it is expensive and many people do not recognize the warning signs. “People get diagnosed [with Alzheimer’s] in their 60s, and they need something now,” Wenk said.
Separating the benefits of marijuana from the high is a problem the researchers encountered, and Wenk said that it might not be possible. “That poses a problem, because you can’t be making people with memory loss high,” he said.
Research involving marijuana or any other illegal drug is controversial, and Wenk’s findings are no exception. He said it is difficult to get work published, and his findings have received criticism that he is advocating a “stoner life,” and praise for contributing to science. MSN, Yahoo and WBNS have all featured his research. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has recently elected Wenk as a fellow for his contributions to Alzheimer’s research. “I am God and I am the devil,” Wenk said.
Graduate student Holly Brothers, who worked on the research with Wenk and Marchalant, said that the scientific community does have sway on policy makers’ decisions on drug use, but it is a slow process. “We accept medical use of cocaine and morphine, which are just as illicit as marijuana and extremely addictive,” she said.
The FDA maintains that marijuana has no medical use. Despite this, 13 states have legalized medical marijuana.
The degree of legal peril in eating a poppy seed bagel, long rumoured and feared by the public, became clear only when two doctors conducted an experiment.
Elizabeth J Narcessian and HoJung Yoon, both at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, published their finding in a 1997 study called False-Positive Urine Drug Screen: Beware the Poppy Seed Bagel. It concerned a patient whose urine mysteriously tested positive for morphine.
“The patient denied any use of illicit substances and denied obtaining medication from any other sources. Her pharmacy confirmed that I [Narcessian] was the only doctor prescribing Schedule II medications [illegal/classified drugs]. The patient was then questioned about her diet. She reported that her diet consisted predominantly of oatmeal cereal and bagels.
“The patient was requested to not eat any poppy seed bagels or poppy seed-containing food for a period of two weeks. She was requested to come to my office on 22 April 1997 with a poppy seed bagel. A urine sample was obtained from the patient at 9am before her ingesting the bagel. The patient was then observed eating one half of a poppy seed bagel.
“[The] results confirmed that ingestion of poppy seeds can result in a positive urine toxicology for morphine. The urines may remain positive from 24 to 48 hours after ingestion.”
The degree of legal peril in eating a pumpernickel bagel, less well known to the public, was put on the public record years earlier. A terse, unsigned report called Niacin Intoxication from Pumpernickel Bagels – New York, was published in 1983 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“On 27 April 1983, 14 of 69 persons attending a brunch had acute onset of rash, pruritus and sensation of warmth … Of 25 persons who ate the bagels, 14 became ill, whereas none of the 44 persons who did not eat pumpernickel bagels became ill.
“Because the bagels were very light in colour, the ingredients were suspected. Investigation revealed that, in an attempt to enrich the pumpernickel flour, a large quantity of niacin had been added. Laboratory studies revealed 60 times the normal level of niacin in the flour. On the basis of these data, each bagel contained approximately 190 milligrams of niacin. The recommended dietary allowance for niacin is [about] 13 milligrams/day for the average adult.”
Thus we know that the risk of public intoxication from bagel consumption, though rare, is real.