New study findings should please aging hippies: Cannabis, the plant that produces marijuana, actually may help prevent bone loss in older adults.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have discovered that the body reacts very differently to cannabis depending on age. Using laboratory mice for their experiments, the research team found that one of the keys to developing osteoporosis is actually a molecule that can be activated by cannabis, called the type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1). In younger mice, activating CB1 increased the rate of tissue loss, but older mice had quite the opposite reaction, according to the study. When the CB1 receptors were activated in the senior rodents, bone loss slowed. Moreover, the cannabis helped prevent the accumulation of fat deposits in the bone, which, according to researchers, is a common trait among people with osteoporosis. The study appears in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Report authors say they will continue to experiment with cannabis to discover other ways in which its effects differ with age. Another recent study showed that the drug can stimulate brain cell growth and help prevent Alzheimer’s among elderly users, unlike its more youthful users, who typically experience memory loss. (McKnight’s, 11/20/08)