Bring it to Barb


Dear Barb,

Did legalizing marijuana create more users of marijuana? Do older adults react differently to marijuana than younger adults? 



Dear Curious,

When researchers examined the brains of THC treated elderly mice, they noticed that neurons in the hippocampus (an brain area critical for learning and memory) had sprouted more synaptic spines, the points of contact for communication between neurons. 

The intriguing findings raises the possibility that THC and other “cannabinoids” might act as anti-aging molecules in the brain. Your body naturally produces cannabinoids. As we grow old, the activity of the endogenous cannabinoid system goes down, which coincides with signs of aging in the brain.  Cannabinoids include dozens of biologically active compounds found in the cannabis sativaplant. 

The findings are not surprising, because the system has homeostatic properties everywhere we look. Its effects can vary depending on the situation. For example, a little marijuana may alleviate anxiety, but too much can bring on paranoid delusions. Cannabis can spark an appetite in cancer patients, but in other people may produce nausea. 

So the young have a surplus of cannabinoids while the older adult does not. 

The endogenous cannabinoid system’s primary function is to try to preserve homeostasis within your brain. Your brain works like an internal regulator; when there is too muchneuronal activity, cannabinoids will suppress activity, safeguarding the brain against cellular stress that contributes to aging. 

Researchers led by Andreas Zimmer at University of Bonn in Germany treated the young mice with THC and they performed slightly worse on behavioral tests of memory and learning. But after the elderly mice were given THC treatment, their performances improved to the point that they resembled those young untreated mice. 

The ease of attaining THC and CBD, along with the acceptance of its usage in a responsible manner, has increased the habit in many older adults compared with just five years ago. 

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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