Marijuana protects your brain

Studies reveal that marijuana protects against brain damage from stroke, heart attacks, and nerve gas.

Illustration: Roddy HeadingIllustration: Roddy HeadingThe US National Institute of Health has found that chemicals in cannabis can reduce the extent of damage during a stroke, at least in rats.
Experiments with rat nerve cells, and then with actual rats, suggest that THC and cannabidiol, both compounds found in marijuana, can protect cells by acting as antioxidants, and could be useful in the treatment and prevention of stroke, heart attacks, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers are investigating how cannabidiol and other antioxidants can reduce the severity of damage from "ischaemic strokes", in which blood vessels in the brain become blocked.

During ischaemic strokes, which make up 80% of all strokes, free radicals are released into the bloodstream. These harmful molecules are believed to cause stroke damage, such as paralysis and loss of speech and vision. Cannabidiol has potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, so it can neutralize free radicals and limit their damage.

Meanwhile, an Israeli pharmaceutical company called Pharmos is conducting human clinical trials using a synthetic, injectable version of cannabidiol, which they have dubbed Dexanabinol.

Dexanabinol's creator is Professor Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who discovered THC in 1964, and has been studying cannabis for over thirty years.

Dr William Beaver, who chaired a panel assembled last year by the US National Institute of Health to review the medical uses of marijuana, called Dexanabinol "the most medically significant use ever made of marijuana."

The human clinical tests began in 1996 with 67 patients in Israel's neurotrauma centres. About 1000 patients will be involved in the next phase, at a cost of $15 million over two years. According to US medical investment analysts, Dexanabinol showed no serious side effects when administered to healthy volunteers.

Aside from the five million people worldwide who suffer a stroke or head trauma each year, there's another huge market for Dexanabinol, the US Army. US military tests on rats have shown that those exposed to Dexanabinol were 70% less likely to suffer epileptic seizures or brain damage after being exposed to sarin and other nerve gases. Dexanabinol is effective as both a preventative measure and as an antidote.

The military's greatest concern seems to be whether Dexanabinol possesses the same psychoactive and enlightening properties as THC and some other cannabinoids. Although THC and cannabidiol both provided equal defense against cell damage, cannabidiol doesn't have significant psychoactive effects.

Of course, the obvious corollary to this is that if synthetic Dexanabinol can prevent brain damage, then organic marijuana does so as well. So the next time grandpa has a stroke, try and get him to take a few bong-hits before the ambulance arrives. Better yet, give him a hash brownie each evening before he has that stroke. You might just save his life.Illustration: Roddy Heading

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