The results of a new pilot study study from Harvard University suggests that smoking medical cannabis may actually be beneficial to brain function. 

As the study explains:

Although MMJ products are derived from the same plant species as recreational MJ, they are often selected for their unique cannabinoid constituents and ratios, not typically sought by recreational users, which may impact neurocognitive outcomes. To date, few studies have investigated the potential impact of MMJ use on cognitive performance, despite a well-documented association between recreational marijuana (MJ) use and executive dysfunction. The current study assessed the impact of 3 months of MMJ treatment on executive function, exploring whether MMJ patients would experience improvement in cognitive functioning, perhaps related to primary symptom alleviation. As part of a larger longitudinal study, 24 patients certified for MMJ use completed baseline executive function assessments and 11 of these so far have returned for their first follow-up visit 3 months after initiating treatment. Results suggest that in general, MMJ patients experienced some improvement on measures of executive functioning, including the Stroop Color Word Test and Trail Making Test, mostly reflected as increased speed in completing tasks without a loss of accuracy. On self-report questionnaires, patients also indicated moderate improvements in clinical state, including reduced sleep disturbance, decreased symptoms of depression, attenuated impulsivity, and positive changes in some aspects of quality of life. Additionally, patients reported a notable decrease in their use of conventional pharmaceutical agents from baseline, with opiate use declining more than 42%.

It concludes:

MMJ patients evidenced improvement in certain aspects of performance on these measures, particularly with regard to time required to complete tasks. Further, patients reported some improvements on measures of clinical state and general health as well as a decrease in conventional pharmaceuticals, notably opiate use, which was reduced by 42% between the baseline and Visit 2 assessment. While future studies are needed to further examine the impact of MMJ, research is impeded by a number of federal and state restrictions.

This is great to see, and it’s not really a surprise. It’s an important study which will continue to lift the stigma that’s been attached to cannabis for so long. That being said, there is still a lot of research to be conducted, as the study states.

This research compliments a lot of other research showing that cannabis can be beneficial for the brain. For example,

A  study published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology in 2006, found that cannabis contains a compound with  two therapeutic properties that are perfect for addressing  the symptom (memory problems) as well as root cause (brain plaque) of Alzheimer’s disease.

This study is a few years old, but even recent research has found that in Alzheimer’s disease, compounds found in cannabis, like THC and CBD for example, might actually improve memory and ward off some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The newest findings were presented last year at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, it’s the world’s largest source of news about brain science and health. The new findings showed that treating Alzheimer’s disease mice with the psychoactive compound found in marijuana improves memory and reduces neuronal loss, suggesting a possible therapy for the human disease. You can read more about that here.

Andreas Zimmer and his team at the University of Bonn in Germany gave low doses of THC to young, mature and senior aged mice. What was interesting is that the elderly mice improved their performances on memory and learning tests “to the point that they resembled those of young, untreated mice.” According to Zimmer, “the effects were very robust, very profound.” (source)

You can read more about that here.

Chemicals within cannabis have powerful antioxidant properties, and scientists believe this can protect the brain from damage. Too much alcohol can lead to permanent brain damage, among other things. A recent study from the University of Kentucky and the University of Maryland concluded that a chemical in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD) could be used to prevent alcohol-induced brain damage. The study was published in September of 2013 in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. (source)

The point is, there are plenty of examples.