Cannabis May Protect the Brain Against Alcohol Damage


Compounds in cannabis may protect the human brain against alcohol-induced damage, according to clinical trial data published online by the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

Investigators at the University of California at San Diego examined white matter integrity in adolescents with histories of binge drinking and marijuana use.

They reported that binge drinkers (defined as boys who consumed five or more drinks in one sitting, or girls who consumed four or more drinks at one time) showed signs of white matter damage in eight separate regions of the brain.

By contrast, the binge drinkers who also used marijuana experienced less damage in seven out of the eight brain regions.

“Binge drinkers who also use marijuana did not show as consistent a divergence from non-users as did the binge drink-only group,” authors concluded. “[It is] possible that marijuana may have some neuroprotective properties in mitigating alcohol-related oxidative stress or excitotoxic cell death.”

In 2005, researchers at the National Institutes of Mental Health reported that the administration of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) reduced alcohol-induced cell death in the hippocampus and etorhinal cortex of the brain in a dose-dependent manner by up to 60 percent. “This study provides the first demonstration of CBD as an in vivo neuroprotectant … in preventing binge ethanol-induced brain injury,” investigators concluded in The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Commenting on the findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “Alcohol and cannabis appear to have contrasting effects on the body,” he said. “Ethanol is clearly toxic to healthy and developing cells whereas cannabinoids appear to be relatively non-toxic and possibly even neuroprotective.”

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