That idea that cannabis can help regrow brain cells is a spectacular claim for medical cannabis if it’s true, and it’s far from the prohibition-era brain health warnings of yore, but there’s a catch.
Cannabis can help regrow brain cells…in animals.
New research reveals that while experiments on rodents and other mammals have shown some brain cell regrowth in the past, it’s not quite the same with human adults, unfortunately.
Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, have found that brain cell growth, or “neurogenesis,” does not occur in the adult human hippocampus as it was once believed.
This is significant news because we have two decades of claims stating that the hippocampus could regenerate lost cells. We even have Ted talks about it. And though it may be true in other mammals, such as rats and mice, humans can’t seem to tap into this ability.
The UC-San Francisco researchers looked at post-mortem brains donated to science from 12 deceased adults. They analyzed certain molecules that only form new neurons, but they didn’t find any in the donated brains. Even in their best-preserved samples, researcher Mercedes Paredes claims that the team didn’t see any evidence of neurogenesis.
We’re not alone in this. Another study recently suggested that whales and dolphins don’t have adult neurogenesis either.
Regarding Marijuana and the Brain, Not All Is Lost
But this study only dealt with the hippocampus. There are other studies showing neurogenesis in other regions [of the brain] not addressed by this study. There are documented instances of Alzheimer’s patients who regain some functionality and memory after cannabinoid treatments. Those are prime cases that might be neurogenesis at work.
The neurogenesis study also did not consider the brain donors’ living eating habits. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids contributes to brain health while the typical American diet lacks this essential nutrient. These fatty acids are critical to putting this study into the context of cannabis because they are the building blocks for our endocannabinoids—our body’s “natural marijuana.”
Sixteen percent of the brain’s weight is DHA; a fatty acid your body doesn’t make. If you’re not eating whole foods, your brain cells are dying, and you’re not going to have neurogenesis.
The debate over whether full-grown humans can make new brain cells remains one of the most controversial topics in modern neuroscience. The verdict will likely remain out until further studies, and new measuring techniques become available.
Either way, cannabis still provides several health benefits acknowledged by many distinguished doctors, and if a study does come by to debunk adult neurogenesis, it shouldn’t detract from cannabis’s other healing properties.