Brain Health,

#168: Marijuana and the Aging Brain

February 17, 2017

Marijuana is still a Schedule I substance in the United States.  This defines it as “a category of drugs not considered for legitimate medical use.”

Which makes it increasingly surreal just how many potential therapeutic uses continue to be discovered by compounds in this most disreputable Schedule.

Dr. Gary Wenk, the author of Your Brain On Food, has spent much of his recent career looking at the effects of cannabinoid compounds — those derived from the marijuana plant — in the brains of rodents.

He’s the first to admit that this isn’t a perfect model for the human brain, but legal requirements make this the best he can do, for now.

The connection between aging and inflammation

As we age, our brains become more inflamed.  It’s this inflammation that causes many of the side effects of aging.  So, if we can prevent inflammation, it stands to reason that we can prevent, or at the very least, slow down, aging.

What causes inflammation?  Eating and breathing.  Yes, the very activities necessary for human survival.  So should you just throw in the towel?

Marijuana and inflammation

Don’t end it all just yet.  There are a few actually fun ways of reducing inflammation in the brain, which seems to slow down the aging process.

Turns out that drinking between 5 and 6 cups of coffee a day is an effective preventative measure against Alzheimer’s disease.

Another surprising discovery?  Taking a puff of marijuana each day appears to reduce inflammation, slow aging, and stop age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The good news is that a very low daily dose of marijuana is effective.  We don’t have enough research to determine exactly how low is enough, but marijuana builds up in our bodies over time, do you do want as low a dose as possible.

And it’s not enough to just take something like Cannabidiol (CBD).  It’s the aggregate effect of all the multiple compounds in the cannabis plant that seems to be beneficial.

Of course, there are other anti-inflammatories out there.  Eating colorful fruits and vegetables.  NSAIDs that are prescribed for conditions like arthritis.

Eat less to live longer

If you’re concerned about living longer, this won’t be the first time you’ve heard the advice to eat less.  Unfortunately for foodies, the advice still holds — the most calories we consume, the faster we age.

Eating creates oxidative stress in the body, leading to inflammation.  It’s not just how much you eat either.  Our biorhythms play a critical role in how we process food.  Eating most of your calories early in the day means that you’ll gain less weight and eat fewer calories throughout the day than people who calorie-load at night.

Dr. Wenk recommends finishing all eating by 4 or 5 pm.

Don’t exercise?

The more you exercise, the more oxygen and calories you consume, and the more inflammation you cause.

That said, you must do weight-bearing exercises on a planet with gravity or your bones begin to lose calcium and weaken.  You must do cardio to support your cardiovascular system.

Try to find a happy medium.  Don’t avoid all exercise, but it’s probably best to refrain from running marathons.

PS:  Another way to live longer?  Get all the tips in our weekly Brain Breakfast newsletter


  1. Tom says:

    It is quite interesting to hear Dr Wenk’s opinion on exercise – namely his blank statement that all exercise contributes to ‘wear and tear’ due to oxidative stress took me by surprise.
    If you get an opportunity to interview him again please spend more time on this issue if you can.
    To the best of my knowledge even though exercise obviously requires our organism to consume and process more food (hence more oxidation needs to happen and ROS – reactive oxygen species production goes up) at the same time it up-regulates radical scavenging systems and may result in actually lower net oxidative burden.

  2. Ben says:

    Great podcast, but I’m skeptical of this remark: “The more you exercise, the more oxygen and calories you consume, and the more inflammation you cause.”

    That’s simply not the case. The evidence supporting vigorous physical activity for neuroprotection and cognitive enhancement is overwhelming.

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