Recent review of the existing studies highlighted that both high (daily/near daily) and low (> 2 times a week) frequency cannabis young users were 6 times more likely to develop schizophrenia compared to those who had never used cannabis. However, not all compounds of cannabis have such disasterious results on the mental health. A recent research found that cannabinol (CBN) from cannabis can protect nerve cells from oxidative damage and cell death, 2 of the major contributors to Alzheimer’s and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
To find out how exactly CBN protects nerve cells, the researchers treated nerve cells with CBN, and then introduced an agent to stimulate oxidative damage. They discovered that the CBN protected mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses, within the neurons by preventing the mitochondria from curling up and keeping them functioning well. To compare, in aging or damaged cells of people with Alzheimer’s, oxidation caused the mitochondria to curl up like donuts, preventing them to work properly.
To confirm the interaction between CBN and mitochondria, the researchers then replicated the experiment in nerve cells without the mitochondria. The result: CBN no longer had its protective effect on the nerve cells! In this way the researchers were able to demonstrate that the protective effects of the CBN were related specifically to the mitochondrial function.
So far, CBN seems to be safe in animals and humans. Derived from the cannabis plant, CBN is molecularly similar to the another compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), but it is not psychoactive. The study showed that CBN didn’t activate cannabinoid receptors, which are required for cannabinoids to produce a psychoactive response. That is why the researchers believe that CBN has the potential for treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, but also other diseases, caused by mitochondrial dysfunction in various tissues. However, the results of this study still have to be replicated, first in mouse models and then in people to confirm the protective effect on CBN.