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The Connection Between Inflammation and Brain Cell Loss (And How Cannabis Can Help)


In recent years scientists have often speculated that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a chronic inflammatory reaction in the brain that triggers cells to malfunction and die off. Today we may have a better understanding exactly how some of this brain inflammation is activated.

Your brain has a natural cleansing system — specific cells, called microglial cells, eliminate diseased or defective nerve cells. They also alert other defense cells to protect the brain from inflammation.

However, when things go awry, this protective mechanism can also damage healthy brain tissue.

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The Receptor That Controls Inflammation in the Brain

Researchers at the University of Bonn find that the CB1 receptor—the one responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis—also appears to act as a sensor to control certain immune cells in the brain.

“We know that so-called endocannabinoids play an important role in this”, explains Dr. Andras Bilkei-Gorzo from the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the university. “These are messenger substances produced by the body that act as a kind of brake signal: They prevent the inflammatory activity of the glial cells.”

However, if the sensor fails, it could jumpstart a dangerous and vicious cycle of inflammation.

Part of the problem is that the brake signals don’t communicate directly with the glial cells. Instead, they interact with certain groups of neurons with large numbers of CB1 receptors.

For example, when the research team switched the CB1 receptors off in a group of mice, it permanently increased inflammatory activity of the microglial cells. However, in mice with functional CB1 receptors, the brain controlled inflammation as usual.

The authors also note that, during aging, production of cannabinoids decline. According to Bilkei-Gorzo, “Since the neuronal CB1 receptors are no longer sufficiently activated, the glial cells are almost constantly in inflammatory mode. More regulatory neurons die as a result, so the immune response is less regulated and may become free-running.”

What Does Cannabis Have to Do with It?

These days we are learning more and more about the potential medicinal value of cannabis. And scientists are showing ever increasing interest in its therapeutic potential for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Just take a look at some of the evidence:

  • Previous research finds that very small doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the main ingredients in cannabis, can slow the production of beta-amyloid proteins.
  • Just last year, the researchers from Bonn and colleagues from Israel were able to demonstrate that cannabis can reverse the aging processes in the brains of mice. This suggests THC has an anti-inflammatory effect on brain aging.
  • THC is a powerful CB1 receptor activator – even in doses too small to have an intoxicating effect.

Combined, these results indicate cannabis could potentially reduce inflammation and prevent the loss of brain cells. It also provides hope that it may be possible to break this vicious circle of inflammation with medication in the near future.



Vicious circle leads to loss of brain cells in old age. News Release. University of Bonn. Aug 2018.

Cao C, et al. The potential therapeutic effects of THC on Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;42(3):973-84.


Dana Nicholas is a freelance writer and researcher in the field of natural and alternative healing. She has over 20 years of experience working with many noted health authors and anti-aging professionals, including James Balch, M.D., Dr. Linda Page, Amazon John Easterling and Al Sears M.D. Dana’s goal is to keep you up-to-date on information, news and breakthroughs that can have a direct impact on your health, your quality of life and your lifespan. “I’m absolutely convinced that America’s misguided trust in mainstream medicine including reliance on the government to regulate our food and medicine supply is killing us, slowly but surely,” she cautions. “By sharing what I’ve learned throughout the years I hope I can empower others to take control over their own health.”

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