Cannabis and concussions: harnessing CBD’s neuroprotective properties

Concussions and sub-concussions (minor blows) can cause brain damage and memory loss. These minor traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can clearly be debilitating to a person’s quality of life, but new medicinal research into cannabis suggests that the herb can help with damage caused by concussions. In this post, we’ll further investigate the therapeutic potential of marijuana in this area, discuss whether the plant can speed up healing times and find out if it can protect the brain from damage in the first place.

Marijuana and minor traumatic brain injuries

The research into cannabis and traumatic brain injuries is incredibly promising. There are compounds in cannabis – known as cannabinoids – which have a unique ability to heal the brain following a trauma incident, including concussion-induced trauma. Marijuana’s anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties have sparked plenty of interest among researchers and supplementing the body with cannabinoids seems to offer the body – and the brain in particular – general protection. Let’s dig deeper into these qualities.

1) Cannabis is a neuroprotectant

Don’t take it from us that cannabis has neuroprotective properties, hear it from the U.S. federal government. It may surprise you to hear that cannabinoids like CBD and CBC have been patented by the Department of Health and Human Services as neuroprotectants. While a damning example of political hypocrisy over cannabis, it is nonetheless, a sign of marijuana’s medicinal possibilities as a treatment for concussion.

In fact, strokes and traumas are specifically mentioned in the government’s patent application, along with a few neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In the application, the government notes that certain cannabinoids have already demonstrated potential in reducing neurological damage.

In 2013, a study into the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the main regulatory network that cannabis interacts with, found that it has a role to play in the brain healing process. Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, and especially in the brain. The researchers discovered that cannabinoids can limit nerve cell damage caused by acute injury. Other studies have shown that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabichromene (CBC) can even facilitate neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells. More research will confirm this, but these findings promise to be game-changing in the fight against neurodegenerative illnesses.

2) Cannabis reduces brain inflammation

The neuroprotective antioxidants found in cannabis could help to calm brain inflammation and protect the organ from stress-related damage. Concussion and general head trauma is typified by heightened neural inflammation.

A team of Israeli researchers at Tel-Aviv University found in 2014 that microdoses of THC reduces brain swelling among rodents. The scientists concluded that the normally psychoactive THC does not produce these mind-altering effects when administered in such low dosages. However, it may help to reduce cognitive damage caused by neuroinflammation and work to combat all kinds of neurodegenerative disease.

3) Cannabis pre-treatment protects against brain damage

Pockets of research have indicated that pre-treatment with marijuana can protect the brain from concussion and head trauma, which should be of note to athletes in the National Football League (NFL), jockeys and others. Anybody working in industries or partaking in activities where the chance of concussion is increased may benefit from regularly medicating with cannabis.

Now, that doesn’t mean people need to be blazing up 24/7 to protect themselves from brain damage – that would probably have the opposite effect. But the occasional CBD dietary supplement, whether vaped, as part of an edible or mixed in with your meals may be incredibly helpful for brain health.

KannaLife Sciences CEO Dean Petkanas expanded on this in a Fox News interview. He said that while there are a “repository of chemicals” in cannabis, it’s the preclinical research into CBD’s neuroprotective properties which are notable. Therefore, CBD treatment could act as a “prophylaxis against repetitive concussive injury.”

In layman’s terms, this means that researchers and pharmaceutical companies are focussed on developing a drug that would protect against concussion-caused brain damage by strengthening the body’s defences.

Non-psychoactive CBD products are the compound most research is targeted on right now, there are also encouraging preclinical studies into tetrahydrocannabinol’s (THC) neuroprotective effects. In 2014, a study found that patients with traumatic brain injuries had a reduce chance of dying from brain trauma if they had distinguishable amounts of THC in their body.

Treating post-concussion syndrome with marijuana

Sometimes, post-concussion syndrome (PCS) occurs after a concussion. This is a complication that can affect a person for several months following the original trauma. The Mayo Clinic picks out fatigue, headaches, anxiety, dizziness, insomnia, memory loss, concentration difficulties, increased sensitivity to noise and light and general irritability as common symptoms of PCS.

Several psychiatric issues which happen following a concussion are attributed to PCS. Researchers have found that patients who experience head trauma are at greater risk of depression and suicide, with a new study worryingly suggesting that a single concussion can increase long-term suicide risk by 200 percent.

However, the devastating symptoms of PCS may be manageable with cannabis treatment. Memory loss and a reduction in cognitive function following a head trauma may be reversible, if the results of a 2012 study into rodents are repeated in humans.

Moreover, rodent research has uncovered that CBD is a potent antidepressant which creates positive changes much more quickly than conventional antidepressants such as SSRIs. These can take several weeks to make improvements, whereas CBD starts combatting depression after the first dose and remains an effective treatment with consistent use.

NFL players call for cannabis

The huge helmets worn by NFL players only offer limited protection to athletes in this most physical of sports. Indeed, some players have filed lawsuits, arguing that there isn’t sufficient protection against head trauma and concussions. Some players have experienced life-long brain damage from injuries they have picked up on the field.

Famous cannabis advocate, psychiatrist and Professor emeritus at Harvard University Dr Lester Grinspoon, believes that the NFL needs to look more closely at medical marijuana as a means to protect their players.

Grinspoon said that cannabis researchers are now “pretty confident” that the herb displays neuroprotective properties, and that the NFL should “pay attention to this,” in an interview with Fusion, which he gave after scribing an open letter to the NFL.

Cannabinoids have been likened to internal shock absorbers, in that they can sap up the force of a head trauma-inducing blow, limiting the neurological damage dealt.

Research suggests that a high-CBD, low-THC cannabinoid profile could be the most effective way of using cannabis medicine for neuroprotective purposes. A good mixture of terpenes and other cannabis chemicals helps to enhance the effects of CBD and other neuroprotective cannabinoids.

Grinspoon also informed the NFL that players could be given a cannabis formula which produces no psychoactive effects. Compared to the current plethora of opioid painkillers that athletes are prescribed, changing to medical cannabis would seem a no-brainer. The potential is there to treat players with an effective neuroprotective medicine, with limited side effects that won’t make them high – yet the NFL continues, for some bizarre reason, to stubbornly resist cannabis-based treatment.

The next step is for researchers to dig deeper into marijuana’s neuroprotective effects and find out whether other cannabinoids also display these qualities. But for that, governments will need to drop the restrictions which prevent extensive research of the herb.

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