Cannabis good for the brain?

Contrary to the widely held belief that smoking dope makes you forget stuff, scientists in the US say that specific elements of cannabis can be good for the ageing brain by reducing inflammation and even stimulating the formation of new brain cells.

Researchers led by Gary Wenk, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University, are suggesting that the development of a synthetic compound based on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the main psychoactive ingredients in cannabis, might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. THC, they say, joins alcohol, nicotine and caffeine as drugs that when used in moderation can protect against inflammation.

“It’s not that everything immoral is good for the brain,” says Wenk. “It’s just that there are some substances that millions of people for thousands of years have used in billions of doses, and we’re noticing there’s a little signal above all the noise.”

So are all these substances “immoral”, or just cannabis? I understand that in US federal law, users of cannabis are seen as guilty of “moral turpitude”, in which case Wenk may simply be following establishment cultural conventions in order to play safe and protect his research project. But still, “moral” is a rather telling word to use in this context, especially when the implication is that millions of people for thousands of years have on billions of occasions acted immorally. Now I know we are all supposed to be sinners, miserable or otherwise, but on such a massive scale?

Wenk’s research looks promising, and I will be interested to see how it progresses. But my heart always sinks when I read of scientists developing synthetic analogues of cannabis that have no psychotropic effects. Maybe it’s the moral transgressor in me speaking, but such an approach seems to be taking the fun out of potentially useful medicines.

Now where did I leave that spliff?