A new study suggests CBN has the potential for treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
More findings on the cannabinoid CBN could lead to the development of new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, say researchers.
A new study by scientists at the Salk Institute in California, suggests CBN has the potential for treating age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s.
Derived from the cannabis plant, CBN is similar to THC, but is not psychoactive and is less heavily regulated by bodies such as the FDA.
Previous research by senior author Pamela Maher, a research professor and head of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory, found that CBN had neuroprotective properties, but it wasn’t clear how it worked.
Now, these new findings, published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, explain the mechanism through which CBN protects brain cells from damage and death.
“We’ve found that cannabinol protects neurons from oxidative stress and cell death, two of the major contributors to Alzheimer’s,” says Maher.
“This discovery could one day lead to the development of new therapeutics for treating this disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s disease.”
Maher’s team looked at the process of oxytosis, which is thought to occur in the ageing brain, and which growing evidence suggests may be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, the scientists treated nerve cells with CBN, and then introduced an agent to stimulate oxidative damage.
They found that the CBN worked by protecting mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouses, within the neurons. In damaged cells, oxidation causes the mitochondria to curl up like donuts—a change that’s also been seen in ageing cells taken from the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
However, treating cells with CBN prevented the mitochondria from curling up and kept them functioning well.
To confirm the interaction between CBN and mitochondria, researchers then replicated the experiment in nerve cells that had the mitochondria removed. In these cells, CBN no longer demonstrated its protective effect.
“We were able to directly show that maintenance of mitochondrial function was specifically required for the protective effects of the compound,” Maher said.
Potential for other diseases
In another key finding, researchers showed that CBN did not activate cannabinoid receptors, which are required for cannabinoids to produce a psychoactive response. Thus, CBN therapeutics would work without causing the individual to become “high.”
First author Zhibin Liang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Maher lab, said: “CBN is not a controlled substance like THC, the psychotropic compound in cannabis, and evidence has shown that CBN is safe in animals and humans. And because CBN works independently of cannabinoid receptors, CBN could also work in a wide variety of cells with ample therapeutic potential.”
In addition to Alzheimer’s, the findings have implications for other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, which is also linked to glutathione loss.
“Mitochondrial dysfunction is implicated in changes in various tissues, not just in the brain and ageing, so the fact that this compound is able to maintain mitochondrial function suggests it could have more benefits beyond the context of Alzheimer’s disease,” Maher said.
She added that the study shows the need for further research into CBN and other lesser-studied cannabinoids.