Is it possible that CBD, a compound found in the cannabis plant, could protect us against the long-term effects of brain injury? Scientists seem to think so, as they research how CBD’s neuroprotective and antioxidative effects might reduce the brain damage caused by strokes, traumatic brain injury and even oxygen deprivation during birth. So is CBD for brain injury a treatment option of the future? Let’s take a look.
The US Contradiction of CBD
CBD, otherwise known as Cannabidiol, is never out of the news these days thanks to its effects as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotectant. But for the United States Government, CBD for brain injury has been on their radar for a while. Back in 2001 they filed the now infamous U.S. Patent 6630507 entitled “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants,” singling out compounds like CBD for their neuroprotectant potential in “limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma.”
The US Federal Government - which, by the way, to this day still classifies the cannabis plant as having no therapeutic use - wouldn’t take out a patent-based on hearsay and hot air. They have consulted an ever-growing body of evidence, suggesting CBD and other cannabinoids could play a significant role in protecting our precious brains from life threatening brain injury or degenerative decline.
That’s because scientists know that when protecting our grey matter, any potential treatment must fulfil the following criteria: it should be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotectant. And guess what, CBD hits the mark on all three. Not only has the cannabinoid been found to reduce neuroinflammation, but it is considered as powerful an antioxidant as Vitamin C and E, as well as calming the cascade of neurotransmitters and chemicals that flood the brain after brain injury, thus creating its neuroprotective effect.
Javier Fernandez Ruiz, Professor of Molecular Biology specialising in neurodegenerative diseases at the Complutense University in Madrid, explains in a previous interview with Endoca: “This is one of the great advantages of cannabinoids. They have a very wide spectrum and are extremely varied compared to other neuroprotective agents that have been researched until now.“
So let’s take a look at some areas where CBD is showing promise at protecting our brains against injury and brain damage.
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CBD and Strokes
Strokes occur when a thickening of the arteries prevents enough blood from reaching the brain. The resulting damage, known as ischemic injury, can include brain cell death, partial paralysis and loss of speech.
Considering the amount of endocannabinoid receptors found in the brain and central nervous system, it is little surprise that our endocannabinoid system becomes activated during a stroke. This creates cellular changes that regulate “glutamate release, nitric oxide synthesis, growth factor expression, cellular antioxidant activity, the release of inflammatory cytokines, and leukocyte adhesion to cerebral vessels.”
As a result, scientists are now examining whether phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant could have a therapeutic and protective effect in cases of strokes. CBD’s tolerance and lack of psychoactivity compared to THC has made it a promising therapeutic target. Researchers have even found it to have “a potent and long-lasting neuroprotective effect when administered both pre- and post-ischemia” (stroke). In preclinical trials, they saw “that repeated treatment with CBD from 1 day or 3 days after cerebral ischemia improved the functional deficits, such as neurological score and motor coordination, and survival rates.”
So far, these results haven’t been extended to clinical trials on humans, but perhaps there will come a day when ER doctors turn to CBD in order to improve the recovery rates of the stroke victims coming through their doors.
CBD and Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a debilitating condition caused by a severe blow to the head. Aside from the initial effects such as severe concussion, symptoms can be more long-lasting and include cognitive and behavioural issues, mobility difficulties, problems with speech and visual impairment, painful headaches, and drastic mood changes.
In the US alone, approximately 5.3 million people live with symptoms related to TBI, which is a number comparable to those affected by Alzheimer’s. Along with other neurological conditions, cannabinoids are being investigated as potential TBI treatment options, thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidative and neuroprotective effects.
Once again, the endocannabinoid system is very much part of the body’s response to a TBI, with scientists noting increased levels of the neuroprotective endocannabinoid 2-AG. Unfortunately, not enough 2-AG is always produced, so researchers are on the hunt for pharmaceutical alternatives to supplement its work.
One way of supporting the ECS is to supply it with phytocannabinoids. And while much of the current research into cannabinoids and TBI has focused on THC, increasingly, doctors are turning to CBD.
In an article in Leafly Magazine, Dr. Allan Frankel, of GreenBridge Medical California, recounts the case study of a female patient who after a serious car accident only found relief for her symptoms through taking CBD. “Within four to six weeks, she made significant progress,” says Frankel, “her cognitive function improved and her memory returned to normal.”
CBD and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Sport is supposed to be good for us, but there are some sports professionals who have been left with a long-term brain condition as a result of repeated concussion or head injury.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma such as concussions, has become an unfortunate badge of honor of various ex-sports pros, in particular retired NFL players.
With inflammation in the brain being a common marker in CTE, it’s not surprising that CBD’s anti-inflammatory and brain protective effects have made it a potential for palliative treatment. Many high profile players have already spoken out about using CBD and medical cannabis to help with chronic pain, depression and anxiety, but it was NFL player Eugene Moore who really took the gauntlet by donating $80,000 to CBD research, with a particular focus on the use of CBD to alleviate the symptoms of CTE.
In an interview with ‘The Players’ Tribune’ he said: “The NFL relies heavily on opioids to get players back on the field as soon as possible, but studies have shown medical marijuana to be a much better solution; it is safer, less addictive and can even reduce opioid dependence. Some studies have also shown that cannabidiol (CBD) — one of the more than 100 cannabinoids found in marijuana — may function as a neuroprotectant, which means it can shield the cells in the brain from injury or degeneration. We need to learn more about this.”
Now that the World Anti-Doping Agency has lifted its ban on CBD, let’s hope more athletes involved in contact sports like Boxing, American Football and Rugby take advantage of CBD’s neuroprotective effects, potentially saving themselves from a retirement blighted by the debilitating physical repercussions of their chosen sports.
CBD for Neonatal Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy and Perinatal Asphyxia
So far, we’ve been talking about CBD’s potential to protect the brains of adults, but did you know that a pharmaceutical company is testing CBD as a way protect newborn babies from the brain damaged caused by oxygen deprivation during birth?
Cannabinoid giants GW Pharma have been awarded fast track and orphan-drug status by the FDA to research CBD for Neonatal Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (NHIE) and Perinatal Asphyxia. In a statement the company said: “GW believes that cannabinoids may have a potentially important role in the treatment of high need pediatric neurologic conditions. As a result, we have developed a proprietary intravenous CBD formulation specifically for use in this most vulnerable of patient populations, newborn infants with NHIE.”
In a previous study performed on piglets asphyxiated during birth, scientists had already found sufficient evidence to suggest CBD could limit the damage caused by a lack of oxygen. They noted improvements in brain tissue oxygenation and a partial recovery in EEG amplitude, which were maintained beyond the acute stage of hypoxic-ischemic brain damage. Any cardiovascular or respiratory side effects were ruled out, “suggesting that CBD may be an effective and safe drug to use in hypoxic-ischemic newborns.”
As always, for most of these conditions, research has not made it past the preclinical stages and trials on human subjects are desperately needed. However, scientists are hopeful that when it comes to CBD for brain injury, the future looks encouraging.
For more information about CBD, cannabinoids and the brain, check out these indepth Endoca articles: