The initial findings of a study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem show that a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, marijuana, may hold out hope for slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research, still at an early stage, indicates that memory loss, the first and primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, can be slowed down significantly in mice by cannabidiol.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects some 24.3 million people worldwide.

In the study conducted by Professor Raphael Mechoulam and a team led by Dr. Maria de Ceballos at the Cajal Institute in Madrid, Spain, mice were injected with a molecule found in the brain of humans suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and then treated for one week with cannabidiol. Following the treatment, their learning ability was assessed by measuring the length of time needed for them to find a hidden platform in a maze.

Those mice injected with cannabidiol successfully performed the task within 25-30 seconds, compared to mice in the control group who had not been treated with cannabidiol, who took almost double the amount of time, 45-50 seconds, to complete the task.

Mechoulam presented the findings this week at the Cannabis Medicines Symposium in London, hosted by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) and said that human trials will hopefully follow in the near future.

Although the findings look promising, Professor Mechoulam warned that Alzheimer’s patients should not use cannabis itself because THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, could have the opposite effect and have damaging effects on the memory.

Mechoulam was the first scientist to isolate the THC component of cannabis and later discovered the first endo-cannabinoid.

Dr. Clive Ballard, director of research for the UK Alzheimer’s Society, called for further research into the use of cannabis as a treatment option, saying, “We need robust clinical trials into the potential benefits of non-psychoactive components of cannabis. It is important for people to note that these treatments are not the same as recreational cannabis use, which can be potentially harmful.”