Cannabis for Traumatic Brain Injuries
Whenever I tell friends the story of that time when I fainted in an open-aired parking lot under the hot summer sun, which resulted in a massive bleeding crack in the back of my head, they all respond with the same answer: “No wonder you’re like that!”
Kidding aside, that incident shook me to the core. I’ve never collapsed in my life, but when I did, I collapsed on a surface filled with sharp stones that sliced my scalp open and caused my head to bleed. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe it’s just been my consistent cannabis use since then that prevented me from suffering serious consequences later on, but I suffered no permanent or temporary damage from that incident. Thankfully all I needed was a quick visit to the clinic, major dousing of antibacterial medicines, a bandage, some antibiotics, and I was fine.
But others are not so lucky. Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are caused by many external factors: hitting your head on a blunt surface, being nearby the site of an explosion, be a victim of violence, a bad fall, car or motor accidents, rough sports (such as football or boxing), or other instances of a sharp object hitting your head. TBI can come with serious consequences: it can lead to a coma, permanent disabilities, amnesia, or worse, death. Other effects of TBI include depression, changes in personality, and impaired movement and memory, which can last anywhere from a few days to .
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1.7 million people get a TBI each year. Out of these, 52,000 die and 275,000 have to go to a hospital for treatment. For the lucky ones who survive a TBI, there are still many other complex concerns that need to be taken care of. Depending on the severity of the condition, patients need immediate emergency room care, a stay at the ICU, rehabilitation. Patients will also need to have routine doctor’s visits, psychological testing, and even cognitive exercises. Life may change for the patient as and those around them.
How Can Cannabis Help TBI Patients?
Many of the endocannabinoid receptors in our body are found in the brain. These receptors play an important role in managing inflammation and can also protect the brain, a feature we refer to as “neuroprotective”. A 2014 study conducted in California of 446 patients of traumatic brain injury, those who had exposure to Delta-9 THC (the primary endocannabinoid in cannabis) suffered lower death rates as opposed to those who didn’t.
An article that appeared in Neurotherapeutics last year state that inflammation is the main cause of various neuropsychiatric problems and long-term brain damage that happens after a person experiences brain trauma, according to anesthesiology professors. Dr. Faden adds, “Brain inflammation is a key issue, and it has been under-emphasized. Recent brain imaging studies, including those in former professional football players, indicate that persistent brain inflammation after a single moderate head injury or repeated milder traumatic brain injury may be very common, and may contribute to cognitive problems. In addition, larger studies indicate that brain inflammation persists for many months or years in many people with traumatic brain injury.”
Professor Yosef Sarne from the Tel Aviv University also discovered that cannabis can fight long-term brain damage when THC is administered after the injury, or even shortly before. Members of the Israeli Defense Practitioners (IDF) are even give low doses of THC which is used as first aid for the soldiers as well as enemy fighters who are victims of brain trauma. Professor Sarne published the results of their findings in 2013. They revealed that giving just a small amount of THC, same as what you would find in a regular joint, 1-7 days before or 1-3 days after the patient sustained a trauma, sets in place the biochemical functions that the body needs to protect the important brain cells while conserving cognitive function.
CBD can be an effective complementary treatment for patients of TBI. CBD is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and as discovered by Japanese researchers, may have stronger antioxidant properties as compared to THC.
There are many other forms of evidence that cannabis is beneficial for patients of TBI, although unfortunately a majority of these are still anecdotal in nature because of the current status of marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. Scientists and doctors who want to explore these benefits further have to face bureaucratic hurdles just to get the information that they need.
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