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Cannabis protects the brain after injury

Note: for a more thorough discussion on the issue, please see my article on Civilized.life.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) affect an estimated 42 million people annually and carry a massive $76.5 economic burden in the United States, alone. Many of these TBIs are sports related, but they also result from vehicle accidents and war. Nearly 20% of troops deployed in Iraq experienced a TBI in battle.

So what can be done?

Scientists are learning that the brain’s cannabinoid system can be an effective target for therapeutic intervention, and there’s emerging evidence that cannabis itself may protect the brain before TBI and after one occurs.

Much of the damage from physical trauma occurs in the minutes, hours, and days after the impact. This secondary injury is an active process that causes brain damage by 3 main mechanisms:

  1. Excessive excitatory neurotransmitter release that leads to cell death
  2. Increase in reactive oxygen species that damage DNA and harm cells
  3. Elevated levels of brain inflammation

Research has shown that activating the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, either by low amounts of exogenous cannabinoids (from cannabis), or the body’s own endocannabinoids (e.g., 2-AG), protects against these mechanisms of secondary injury. 1) Activating cannabinoid type I and II receptors (CB1 and CB2) reduces excitatory neurotransmitter release and prevents cell death.  2) Cannabinoids like CBD are potent anti-oxidants and neutralize the harmful reactive oxygen species that damage cells. 3) Activating CB2 receptors dampens brain inflammation, thereby limiting a major contributor to secondary brain injury.

There’s even evidence that cannabis can be protective the brain if consumed before physical trauma. Since TBIs will continue to be a problem in this country and around the world, it raises interesting questions regarding whether we should consider low-amounts of cannabis as being neuroprotective for athletes in contact sports, the military, and the elderly. This certainly requires further investigation into its efficacy and harmful side effects, as well as ways to mitigate tolerance.

For a more thorough review of cannabis’ benefits after TBI, and a discussion of recent research, please see my article published on Civilized.life