Politicians often rail about the scourge that is marijuana. They (incorrectly) call it a gateway drug; they (incorrectly) believe it is linked to an increase in crime; and they (incorrectly) think that it makes users dumb.
In addition to these incorrect beliefs, many from the anti-cannabis crowd tend to stereotype cannabis users, contending that they are all 20-something slackers, who work in fast food restaurants and generally contribute to the fall of Western civilization.
Legalization Has Provided a Wealth of Data
However, one of the unforeseen consequences of increased cannabis legalization is that it has allowed sociologists to study real data. Now, demographic information and other helpful data is available for their analysis, and some of it has been quite interesting.
For example, following the legalization of marijuana in several states, one demographic group started smoking far more pot than they had in the past. No, it wasn’t the 18-34 group that most anti-cannabis crusaders would expect; the greatest increase in usage occurred among senior citizens. While many of these seniors are undoubtedly using cannabis for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of chronic pain conditions or insomnia, many others are surely using it recreationally.
Scientists Study THC and Aging Brains
But new evidence suggests that even those who smoke for the cerebral effects are actually doing their gray-matter some good. Researchers with the University of Bonn in Germany started testing the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in mice of various ages. Once dosed, the mice were put through a series of tests to measure their cognition, learning and memory.
Perhaps not surprisingly, young mice performed worse on many tests after being administered THC. They took longer to solve mazes and failed to recognize mice with whom they were already acquainted. However, young mice that were not administered THC performed much better on these same tests than older mice did – even when the older mice had not been dosed with THC either. Apparently, young mice have greater mental faculties than mature mice do.
However, when the oldest group of mice were administered THC, they performed comparably to young, un-dosed mice. The results were quite remarkable, and there was nothing subtle about the differences in their scores.
Potential Applications for People?
These findings have led some scientists to speculate that THC may be of value in preventing (or even reversing) the cognitive decline that many human seniors face. While human trials are surely a long way away, it does provide yet another source of hope for the elderly and their loved ones. By contrast, other researchers are encouraging restraint and skepticism. The effects of drugs in mice often differ markedly from the effects elicited in humans, and THC may not provide similar results when used on our own elderly.
Given the other medicinal effects of THC that seniors already enjoy, it may just be that in 20 or 30 years, seniors are consuming more cannabis than all the other demographic groups combined.