Neuroscientists found that extremely low doses of a compound found in marijuana may slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that neuroscientists using a cellular model of Alzheimer's found low doses of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reduced the production of amyloid beta, and prevented abnormal accumulation, which is one of the early signs of the memory-loss disease.

“Decreased levels of amyloid beta means less aggregation, which may protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Since THC is a natural and relatively safe amyloid inhibitor, THC or its analogs may help us develop an effective treatment in the future,” said lead author Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist and PhD at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute and the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy.

Neuroscientists also found THC enhanced mitochondrial function which is needed to supply energy, transmit signals and maintain a healthy brain.

“THC is known to be a potent antioxidant with neuroprotective properties, but this is the first report that the compound directly affects Alzheimer’s pathology by decreasing amyloid beta levels, inhibiting its aggregation, and enhancing mitochondrial function,” Cao said.

The research noted that the therapeutic benefits of THC at low doses appear greater than the associated risks of toxicity and memory impairment.  

“Are we advocating that people use illicit drugs to prevent the disease? No,” study co-author Neel Nabar said. “However, these findings may lead to the development of related compounds that are safe, legal, and useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.”

As many as 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, with the numbers projected to reach 14 million by 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).