Over the last few years, people have become increasingly aware of both the frequency and severity of traumatic brain injuries. They are a plague affecting our societies. More and more athletes, accident survivors, even military veterans are talking about the effects of brain injuries. Additionally, governments and sports organizations are conducting awareness campaigns on the issue.
Scientists have also been working to understand everything they can about injuries to the brain. They want to know its causes and create new, more effective therapies. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one particular treatment that shows much promise in helping those with brain injuries cope with them better. CBD is a powerful non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants.
Understanding Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a serious medical condition caused by severe head injury, such as bumping your head hard or jolting your brain inside your skull. It causes brain damage, sometimes mild, sometimes catastrophic. An injured brain releases chemicals and neurotransmitters that cause inflammation, which injures blood vessels, imbalances chemicals, damages tissues, and kills brain cells.
This is a natural brain response to trauma, called a “secondary injury cascade.” They cause much of the neurological symptoms associated with these injuries. If severe enough, TBI can prove fatal, cause lifelong complications even. However, mild TBIs are dangerous too. Concussion, the most common mild TBI, can result in days, even weeks, of secondary injury cascade.
If the head suffers repeated trauma, tau proteins can build up in the brain. Ultimately, this can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative neurological condition. Because CTE causes various symptoms that affect cognition, movement, behavior, emotions, and memory, they can be devastating for victims and entire families.
Neuroprotective Potential of CBD
Back in 1998, scientists conducted a study on rodents that revealed possible neuroprotective benefits associated with CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, another key cannabinoid. Although more study is necessary to fully comprehend its neuroprotective properties, recent research shows CBD activating specific cannabinoid receptors in the brain, those forming part of the endocannabinoid system.
According to the British Pharmacological Society, a 2011 rodent study found elevated levels of endocannabinoids both during and after traumatic brain injury. This highlights the neuroprotective role that the endocannabinoid system plays. Several other studies show that activating specific cannabinoid receptors in the brain could enhance blood flow to the area, limiting damage to nerve cells.
A 2002 study, on mice genetically engineered to lack CB1 receptors, found brain damage and cognitive impairment from a TBI notably more severe compared to mice that have the CB1 receptor. When activated, another cannabinoid receptor, also in the brain, called CB2, might stimulate the production of new brain cells and regulate the inflammation associated with TBI.
Additionally, CBD affects glial cells. They insulate neurons and trigger the brain’s immune response to traumatic injury. Studies show CBD manipulating two specific glial cells, being microglia and astrocytes. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a 2017 study showed CBD suppressing the swelling and activity caused by astrocytes, while stimulating CB receptors limits inflammation by microglia.
What Is the “Entourage Effect?”
Full-spectrum CBD is abundant in different phytocannabinoids, all of which combine to produce an “entourage effect.” The various cannabinoids engage both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and body, providing maximum neuroprotection and healing. More research is crucial, as some studies indicate that, when consumed within 12 hours of a brain injury, CBD might prevent or restrict damage caused during the secondary injury cascade.
Evidence Supports CBD for TBI
Although science shows CBD with much promise in treating brain injuries in the laboratory, there is powerful anecdotal evidence to consider too, particularly from former athletes in sports that have a high risk of head injury, such as football and boxing. Many are speaking out about the benefits of CBD in treating both TBI and CTE, saying it helps to regulate mood, improve function, and reduce, even eliminate, dependence on prescription painkillers and other harmful medications.
CBD, unlike most prescription painkillers, is non-addictive. It cannot lead to overdose and it causes no side effects. Additionally, CBD does not increase tolerance, so you do not need higher doses to receive the same benefits. It is also safe and effective for other medical issues common in everyday life, such as insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, even depression.
However, although much anecdotal evidence exists to show CBD helpful in treating sports-related brain injuries, it also proves promising for those caused by accidents, falls, military combat, and more. Furthermore, scientists are researching the potential of CBD in helping those with other medical conditions of the brain, such as dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It is too early to come to definite conclusions about using CBD to treat TBI and CTE, but researchers are busy investigating it with gusto. We know it helps in treating brain injuries and preventing further damage. For now, scientists are developing safety and dosing recommendations, and those suffering TBI or CTE can use CBD to treat the symptoms of their injury, frequently with life-altering results.