Can cannabis help protect our brains? Photo by Shidlovski.
The use of cannabis for its medical properties has a long history, and goes back thousands of years. In fact, according to a 2018 study in the Surgical Neurology International journal, the use of cannabis for numerous physical, psychological and emotional benefits dates back to 2600 BC in Chinese pharmacopoeia. Additionally, the study claims that certain compounds in cannabis, including CBD and THC, are the plant’s most studied extracts.
According to Harvard Health, consumers most commonly use medical cannabis for chronic pain control. But it is also beneficial for nausea, weight control, glaucoma, and much more.
But, can cannabis, or individual cannabinoids, help treat or protect our brains against things like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), strokes, and seizures?
Cannabis and CTE
CTE is a progessive and fatal degenerative brain disease caused by concussions and repeated blows to the head. According to Baked Bros, traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) like CTE account for about 30% of all injury-related deaths.
A 2002 study from the Surgical Neurology International journal states that both harmful and neuroprotective mediators are released during a TBI. Additionally, the balance between the two determine the severity of injury one may experience.
Additionally, the study shows that the endogenous brain endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-Arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) form after a TBI in rats and mice. When scientists administer these endocannabinoids to the animals after a TBI, they reduce brain damage.
Regarding studies that link cannabis and CTE involving humans, they are mostly anecdotal. According to an article by Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience on cannabis therapeutics, the combination of THC and CBD are noticeably helpful in the treatment of TBI symptoms such as headaches, nausea, insomnia, dizziness, agitation, substance abuse, and other psychotic symptoms.
The research concluding that cannabis is in fact effective in treating TBIs and CTE in animals helps clear the path to studying the same effects in humans. While the majority of related research in humans is anecdotal, it is the right step towards further definitive research.
Cannabis and Strokes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke. Consequently, it is a leading cause of death for Americans. Additionally, about 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes, meaning they occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked.
A 1998 study by the National Institute of Mental Health concluded that CBD may protect the brain from damage caused by a stroke.
In the study, scientists researched the effects of both CBD and THC on the brains of rats. It was found that CBD blocked glutamate, a neurochemical that leads to the formation of toxic oxidizing molecules that kill brain cells. The study also states that the neurochemical is known to form in the brain if its oxygen supply is cut off due to a blood clot leading to a stroke, for example.
Researchers also found that CBD is a more effective antioxidant than vitamin A and vitamin E, both which halt the damaging effects of glutamate.
Additionally, a 2019 study by the American Heart Association states that the application of CBD reduced infarction (obstruction of blood supply to an organ) within six hours of stroke onset.
The study also claims that the repeated treatment of a stroke with CBD for up to 14 days improved the functional outcome and survival rates of stroke patients. This suggests that CBD contains neuroprotective properties in both the early and late phases of a stroke and its outcome.
Cannabis and Seizures
The CDC states that in 2015, 1.2% of the U.S. population suffered from active epilepsy, totaling 3 million adults and 470,000 children. Additionally, the center finds that more Americans suffer from epilepsy than ever before.
The Epilepsy Foundation states that early evidence concluded from lab studies, anecdotal reports, and clinical studies suggest that CBD could potentially help control seizures. The foundation also states that a number of studies show that CBD is beneficial in treating specific groups of people with epilepsy who have responded poorly to traditional forms of therapy.
Epidiolex (a CBD formulation) helps treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome. It is a purified CBD extract from the cannabis plant which Greenwich Biosciences produces.
Back in 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex. It was the first ever drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from cannabis. Additionally, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rescheduled Epidiolex to a schedule V drug.
As one of the most studied and known CBD treatments regarding seizure-inducing diseases, Epidiolex has been relatively-heavily trialed on a clinical level. Studies listed by the Epilepsy Foundation have found many positive outcomes as a result of using the medication.
The outcomes concluded that for one study by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the addition of CBD to a traditional seizure medication decreased the frequency of drop seizures significantly in children and adults with LGS. Another listed study by the NEJM concluded that among people with Dravet syndrome, CBD provided a greater decrease in convulsive-seizures than the placebo.
Additional Benefits and Applications
A study conducted by Purevolution lists a number of diseases that certain properties of cannabis have proven to treat or ease. The study states that regarding diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, cannabinoids do in fact act as a neuroprotectant, providing both treatment and protection against them.
The study also concludes that regarding cancer, cannabinoids act as antioxidants in prevention and treatment of pathological conditions in patients exposed to oxidants as a result of chemotherapy.
A 2010 study by the University of South Carolina also states that cannabinoids are useful in treating Multiple Sclerosis (MS) because they exhibit both neuroprotective and immunosuppressive properties. Clinical evidence provided in the study concluded that patients with MS reported improvements in spasticity, pain and tremors.
Additionally, a research article published in 2018 by Walter Milano and Anna Capasso states that there is a strong link between cannabinoids and neurodegenerative diseases. The studies discussed in the article conclude that there are promising opportunities for the targeting of different parts of neurodegenerative diseases. They also conclude that cannabinoid medicine has the potential to lead to novel therapies, which may help prevent progression and potentially the initiation of such diseases.
Government Patents on Cannabis as a Neuroprotectant
It may spark one’s interest to learn that the U.S. contains patents on cannabis, specifically regarding its medicinal use as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant.
The abstract of the U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 states how cannabinoids contain antioxidant properties, and are effective in treating a wide variety of oxidation-associated diseases, such as ischemic insults, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
It also claims that cannabinoids have applications as neuroprotectants, limiting neurological damages following strokes, trauma, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV dementia.
While this may be startling to some, considering the U.S. government is capitalizing on the health benefits of a naturally-occurring yet prohibited plant, it still showcases the progression of the medicinal realization of cannabis.
Importantly, the patent provides solid evidence regarding the application of cannabis for medicinal uses. It further proves the neuroprotective and antioxidant properties provided in cannabis.