Marijuana May Fight Alzheimer’s–What Will That Mean for Baby Boomers?

There are 76 million baby-boomers out there and as many as 28 million could develop Alzheimer’s.
 As I’ve noted, I don’t smoke pot, but I have friends that do. Like me, they’re aging baby-boomers. Unlike me, they’re retired and don’t have to meet daily deadlines.

So why the heck shouldn’t they?

That question took on new urgency recently with reports that pot might play a major role in warding off Alzheimer’s disease.

It seems that the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, inhibits the tendency of “amyloids” to form in the brain. Amyloids are thought to be linked to a loss of memory and THC seems to be more effective than prescription drugs in hindering their formation.

I discussed this the other day with Kim Janda, a chemistry professor at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Back in 2006, Janda and colleagues published the first study showing that THC might have a positive effect in fighting Alzheimer’s. (Other studies have affirmed that.)

“It was one of first papers that showed there could possibly be a link,” Janda said. “There was huge pushback when we published it.”

As a scientist, Janda wasn’t interested in the politics of marijuana, which has changed quite a bit in the intervening years. He was interested in the data, which showed that THC held promise as Alzheimer’s therapy.

In the past few years there have been several other studies supporting his research on the possible chemical route by which pot could help guard against Alzheimer’s. And he’s heard some reports that it seems to work.

“We’ve heard from people who’ve been giving it to their parents and we’ve seen some effect, but it could be anecdotal,” he said.

More research is needed, he said, perhaps some sort of long-range study with the proper control groups. But it’s tough getting money for that sort of research. In fact it’s tough getting grants for any sort of research, he said.

Whatever it costs, it would be worth it to the government. There are 76 million baby-boomers out there and as many as 28 million could develop Alzheimer’s. The cost of caring for them could exceed $300 billion.

Janda said he hears a lot from advocates of marijuana legalization, which was passed by California voters last year but has yet to go into effect. They want him to come out in favor of total legalization, but he’s not a fan of smoking of marijuana – or any drug.

“Smoking reaches the brain much quicker,” he said. “Snorting cocaine is not as addictive as smoking crack because it reaches there quicker.”

If Janda had his druthers, he said, he’d prefer that the THC be available in some oral form rather than smoked. But that question has already been settled in a lot of states, and the smokers won.

So it looks like the great experiment will be going forward with or without a government grant.

A lot of boomers who are already disposed to smoke pot will be making up their own minds about its benefits in warding off Alzheimer’s.

Then there are those states that permit medicinal marijuana, but not recreational pot. New Jersey is one of them. It’s easy to imagine our legislators adding Alzheimer’s prevention to the list of acceptable reasons for smoking government-grown weed.

Of course, just about everyone over the age of 60 so could claim that as a reason.

Depending on who gets elected governor in November, there could be a move for full legalization of marijuana. But that could easily take a year or more according to one of the Democratic candidates, state Sen. Ray Lesniak of Elizabeth.

“Something like that we could implement immediately,” he said. “But we’d have to delve more into the research.”

I suspect a lot of aging baby-boomers will start doing that research on their own once word gets around of the potential beneficial effects of pot. And I for one don’t see why they should have to wait for the politicians to sort it out.

On this point I think all freedom-loving Americans are in debt to the great Ron Paul of Texas. The former congressman and presidential candidate has done more than any living Republican to restore in the party a healthy skepticism about the role of the federal government.

When asked by a TV interviewer why he supports making marijuana legal, Paul responded, “The question is why you would want to make it illegal.”

That question just got a bit tougher when it comes to the boomers.

PLUS: This discovery poses a very interesting political question. In the past the debate over marijuana has centered around its potential effects on young people. But when it comes to oldsters, most feel themselves perfectly capable of making their own decisions.

That puts a new spin on the old Ronald Reagan quote about how the scariest line in the English language is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Reagan never applied his own logic to the War on Drugs. But the baby-boomers have every right to. If they assess the evidence and decide that on balance using marijuana offers more positives than negatives, then what business is it of the government?

That applies particularly to our governor, who for reasons only he understands has decided to make a number of silly comments about marijuana, such as calling it “poison.”

Is there a single baby-boomer out there who wants health advice from Chris Christie?

If so, please let us know why in the comments.

(Below: Ron Paul points out that the federal ban on marijuana is really a liberal, big-government approach that should be rejected by Republicans who believe in states’ rights.)


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