A study done in 2006 by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon made a startling discovery-the administration of synthetic cannabinoids into rats stimulated the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus portion of the brain and greatly reduced levels of anxiety and depression-based behaviors. The results came as such a surprise to many researchers because it had long been speculated that cannabis possessed the same potential to reduce neurogenesis as other drugs of abuse (alcohol, tobacco, etc.) yet was shown to have the exact opposite effect.
While it may be too soon to expedite the testing to human subject matter, the data does at least give body to the theory that cannabinoids are not toxic to the brain and that even long-term cannabis use may actually represent very little risk to brain function. The study also suggests that cannabinoids may have use in the relief of anxiety or depression, and that one day pharmacies may be able to offer safer and more effective alternatives to common anti-depressants.
In collaboration with modern studies disproving the idea that cannabis is neurotoxic, many recent findings have pointed towards cannabinoids actually possessing a neuroprotective nature, especially from brain damage caused by alcohol. A preclinical study conducted in 2006 by the US National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) found that administration of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol-or CBD-caused ethanol-induced brain cells death to drop by up to 60%. This study was the first to show CBD as a neuroprotectant in prevention of binge ethanol-induced brain injury, although scientists have known about marijuana’s neuroprotective nature since 1998. It was then that NIMH first discovered that natural cannabinoids could be used to fight the brain damaging effects of stroke or acute head trauma. Many studies have taken place since then, but the results of measuring the neuroprotective effects of synthetic cannabinoid medication in humans have remained inconclusive.