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Treating Traumatic Brain Injury With Cannabis

Traumatic Brain Injury is a serious medical condition caused by an external blow to the head that can cause sever and often chronic symptoms. These symptoms can be cognitive, behavioral, movement related, speech and visual impairing, mood altering, involve painful headaches, and even cause gastrointestinal issues.

In the U.S., nearly 52,000 people die from TBI and 80,000 sustain severe disabilities, each year. When you compare it to murder (14,196) and vehicle-related accidents (32,675), which combines claim fewer lives. Moreover, 5.3 million people in the U.S. live with TBI-related disabilities, a number comparable to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

How Cannabis Can Damage Caused By Traumatic Brain Injury

While effective therapies to treat ongoing TBI symptoms have been difficult to develop, there might be a glimmer of hope. Thanks to researchers like Prof. Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University, we have learned that cannabis may prevent long-term brain damage by administering THC before or shortly after the injury. In fact, Israel Defense Force (IDF) practitioners administer CBD or low-dose THC as a first-line treatment to IDF soldiers who suffer from brain trauma.

Sarne and his team published their results in 2013, where they demonstrated that administering just a fraction of the amount of THC that would be found in a typical cannabis joint anywhere from one to seven days prior to, or one to three days after an injury, induces the biochemical processes necessary to protect critical brain cells while preserving long-term cognitive function.

Can Cannabis Help People Suffering From TBI?

Given the success found in Israel using cannabis to stop TBI dead in its tracts, the question is can cannabis help relieve chronic TBI symptoms?

There are many success stories out there from people resorting to marijuana, but there are anecdotal. Thus far, there aren’t any notable clinical trials that have demonstrated the efficacy of cannabis to treat ongoing symptoms in TBI patients. Unfortunately, even outside of cannabis research, phase II/III clinical of potential treatments haven’t showed any consistent improvements in outcomes.

The lack of cannabinoid-focused trials is likely due in part to the federal government classifying cannabis as a Schedule II substance “with no currently accepted medical use” and “a high potential for abuse” – a position that has long long been a thorn in the side for scientists who are forced to deal with tons of bureaucratic obstacles to conduct high-quality rigorous studies.

Nonetheless, despite the federal government’s position, there is some evidence that at least lends support to speculation that cannabis-derived treatments may be beneficial:

“Effect of Marijuana Use on Outcomes in Traumatic Brain Injury” (UCLA Medical Center, 2014):

In a three-year retrospective review of 446 separate cases of similarly injured patients, researchers found traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients who had a history of cannabis consumption possessed increased survival rates compared to non-consumers (97.6 percent survived surgery, versus 88.5% of those who didn’t consume cannabis).

“[O]ur data suggest an important link between the presence of a positive THC screen and improved survival after TBI,” the researchers concluded. “With continued research, more information will be uncovered regarding the therapeutic potential of THC, and further therapeutic interventions may be established.”

“Endocannabinoids and Traumatic Brain Injury” (Mechoulam, 2007):

This Israeli study points to research that demonstrates:

“…the [endocannabinoid] system…has the ability to [positively] affect the functional outcome after TBI by a variety of mechanisms.”

“The Therapeutic Potential of the Cannabinoids in Neuroprotection” (Grundy RI, 2002):

Positive results in experimental models don’t always translate to human subjects, hence the desperate need for more research. However, as earl research shows promise and we know cannabis demonstrate neuroprotective effects in a variety of neurological conditions, research should in fact be prioritized.

Also, since TBI is a condition affecting the human brain, a highly complex and intricate system, successful strategies will likely involve more than a single “magic bullet.”

CBD Can Be Remarkably Effective for TBI

As we continue to learn more about THC and other cannabinoids to treat traumatic brain injury, many physicians believe CBD can be a safe and effective treatment. CBD is a largely non-psychoactive cannabinoid that possesses neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. It might just be as close to a “magic bullet” we can get right now. In fact, CBD may be more beneficial than THC. Japanese researchers found cannabidiol (CBD) exhibited stronger antioxidative power than THC without creating tolerance to its neuroprotective effect.

Dr. Allan Frankel, of GreenBridge Medical in Santa Monica, California, believes incorporating small amounts of CBD as a daily nutritional supplement is a safe and sensible adjunct to therapy. A recent patient of his was a 45 year mother who was in a bad car accident. She suffered from memory loss and after four to six weeks on CBD, her memory returned to normal.

While clearly there’s lots of promise in the limited research to date and anecdotal reports, we need to continue developing our understanding of cannabinoid neurobiology in order to most effectively exploit the numerous therapeutic properties of cannabis. We can then, hopefully, unleash a whole spectrum of potential benefits cannabis may be able to provide and discover innovative new treatments that could possibly help millions of people who continue to suffer from this condition.