Over the past several years, public awareness regarding traumatic brain injury has increased greatly – thanks in part to military veterans, professional athletes, and accident survivors who have started to speak out about the effects of a brain injury, along with a variety of brain injury campaigns that have been set up by government and athletic organizations.
Traumatic brain injury is one of the leading causes of death around the world in people under the age of 45. Triggered by concussions that result from falls, violent contact sports, car accidents, gunshots, stab wounds, or explosions, 1.7 million Americans are affected by traumatic brain injury annually.
Medical researchers have been performing studies to learn more about traumatic brain injuries in order to understand the causes and develop new, more powerful treatments. One particular brain injury treatment that is showing a lot of promise is cannabidiol (CBD). But how exactly does it work and what have the studies found? Let’s take a closer look.
Overview of Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury is a disorder that results from a head injury, such as a jolt, bump, or blow which causes the brain to slam into the inside of the skull, and this causes brain damage. When the brain is injured, it releases chemicals and neurotransmitters which cause chemical imbalances, cell death, inflammation, blood vessel injury, and tissue damage. These brain responses are known as “secondary injury cascades” and are the cause of many of the neurological problems that are associated with traumatic brain injury.
Mild traumatic brain injuries might affect your brain cells temporarily. However, more-serious traumatic brain injury can cause bleeding, bruising, torn tissue, and other physical damage to the brain. These injuries can cause long-term complications or even death.
Traumatic brain injury often has a wide range of physical and psychological effects. Some symptoms or signs may come up immediately after the injury, while others could appear only days or weeks later.
Traumatic brain injury can be split into two categories; mild, and moderate to severe. Symptoms will differ depending on how severe the injury is. The typical symptoms for a mild traumatic brain injury can include headaches, problems sleeping, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, dizziness, and memory or concentration problems, among other things. The typical symptoms of a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury can include; convulsions or seizures, loss of coordination, inability to awaken from sleep, clear fluids draining from the nose or ears, loss of consciousness for a few minutes to hours, profound confusion, slurred speech, coma and other disorders of consciousness.
How and Why CBD Could Help with Traumatic Brain Injury
In various studies, CBD has been found to work as a neuroprotectant to the brain after head injury has occurred and can help to reduce neurological damage following a trauma. One particular study looked at how cannabis could help to treat people who had suffered a traumatic brain injury.
They found that cannabinoids such as CBD mimic and even amplify the endogenous activity of cannabinoids that the body produces naturally on its own. These endogenous cannabinoids form part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) which is tasked with regulating a variety of different and important physiological processes that are relevant to the effects of brain injury – inducing blood flow to the brain and regulating inflammation.
By influencing the activity of these ECS-related endogenous cannabinoids, those patients who are inflicted with brain injury may be able to heal more effectively and faster than those who don’t add CBD to their treatment regime.
Other research has linked cannabinoids to a significant reduction of cell death in the brain following a traumatic head injury. In response to head injury, the ECS activates and jumps into action as a self-protective action. The cannabinoid receptors, known as CB1 and CB2 are then activated to help protect the brain against traumatic impact to the head.
The cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, like CBD, are able to activate the same receptors and have similar effects to those produced by the natural ECS in the body which helps to protect and heal the brain after trauma.
It has also been found that CBD is able to delay the degenerative effects that commonly follow head injury since there is normally only a short time frame for therapeutic interventions to prevent such effects.
Research has discovered that CBD could offer long-lasting protection for the brain if it’s administered shortly after the brain injury occurs. In fact, CBD has also been linked to the treatment of other neurodegenerative disorders that impact the brain, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.
Medical Findings: Effects of Cannabinoids and CBD on Traumatic Brain Injury
One of the earliest studies conducted with regards to CBD and traumatic brain injury was in 1998. Researchers published the results from a study done on rats which demonstrated the neuroprotective benefits of both CBD and THC. Although more research is still necessary in order to fully understand CBD’s neuroprotective effects, more recent studies have found that CBD activates the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
A 2011 study done on rats found that the endocannabinoid levels are escalated during and after a traumatic brain injury, suggesting that the ECS plays an essential neuroprotective role.
Other animal studies have also indicated that by activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain, nerve cell damage is limited and healing is promoted because of enhanced blood flow to the brain. A 2002 study discovered that mice who were genetically engineered to have a lack of CB1 experienced more severe brain damage than those mice who had the CB1 receptor.
Activating the CB2 receptor has been found to promote the creation of new brain cells and helps to regulate inflammation after brain injury. A 2014 study found that mice that were genetically engineered to not have a CB2 receptor had worse effects after a traumatic head injury in comparison to mice that had a CB2 receptor. The same study found that not having a CB2 receptor also impaired the creation of new brain cells.
Lastly, CBD may affect the glial cells, which insulate neurons and facilitate the brain’s immune response following injury. Research has shown that CBD seems to have the strongest effect on two types of glial cells; microglia and astrocytes. An animal study done in 2017 found that CBD suppressed the swelling and activity that was caused by astrocytes, while another 2017 study found that the stimulation of cannabinoid receptors of the brain could suppress inflammation that is caused by microglia in rats.
Medical Benefits of Using CBD for Traumatic Brain Injury
While CBD has shown promise for traumatic brain injury in the research laboratory, there is also strong anecdotal evidence – especially from former professional athletes in sports that have a high risk of head injury, like football and boxing.
Many professional athletes have spoken on the benefits of CBD in the treatment of traumatic head injury symptoms, saying that helped to improve their physical function, regulates their mood, and reduces or eliminates the use of prescription pills, and other medication.
Unlike most prescription pills, CBD isn’t addictive, and it can’t cause an overdose. CBD doesn’t have adverse side effects and won’t cause increased tolerance which requires higher doses to achieve the same effects.
How to Take CBD for Traumatic Brain Injury
If you are considering the use of CBD to treat a traumatic brain injury, it’s important to choose the right ingestion method for your needs. Most patients prefer to find relief by means of a directly ingested pill or edible.
This method will allow for the product to absorb directly into the bloodstream and offers immediate relief with prolonged effects. Also, pills and edibles avoid the potential annoyance that is caused by lung irritation, which can occur when smoking CBD. Edibles and capsules also allow you to directly control the dosage amount – which allows you to follow a routine prescription intake each day if you prefer.
Vaping CBD also produces immediate effects and causes less discomfort than smoking. A vape pen releases few byproducts while being used but still helps with the ingestion of CBD that you need to find relief.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Traumatic Brain Injury
The effects of CBD has become a real phenomenon in the medical world with its promising applications in a number of settings to alleviate and treat issues that are related to various medical conditions. But, in addition to the more common medical benefits, CBD is also proving to be helping in the treatment of traumatic brain injury. Researchers are hoping to conduct further studies on why and how CBD can be used for brain injuries.