A recent study suggests over-the-counter medication could set aside one of the biggest obstacles to using marijuana to treat a variety of ailments and conditions.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Cell, showed that using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as the painkiller ibuprofen could prevent memory problems and other brain abnormalities associated with frequent marijuana use.

The study also found evidence to suggest the drug could be used to treat Alzheimer's patients.

The main active ingredient in marijuana, THC, and drugs based on that compound have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, but these drugs have not been approved for more conditions because of their side effects.

There have been no effective FDA-approved treatments for those side effects because little was known about the molecular pathways that cause the impairments prior to this study’s completion.

The researchers said they discovered that THC exposure in mice causes an increase in the level of the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2 in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, and that enzyme can be inhibited by the use of some painkillers.

"The results suggest that the use of medical marijuana could be broadened if patients concurrently take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug,” said Dr. Chu Chen, who led the research team at the Louisiana State Health Sciences Center.

The researchers also said they discovered that THC treatment reduced neuron damage in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, and they said the beneficial effect continued when the animals were also treated with enzyme-inhibiting drugs.

There are currently no effective medicines available for prevention and treatment of the degenerative disease, but Chen said the study suggested that it may be possible to halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease with THC while reducing or eliminating the harmful effects of its use on the brain.

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