The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines Traumatic brain injury (TBI) as “a form of acquired brain injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain.
A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking. A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.”
The University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) published a paper detailing the inadequacies of current research. Because there is limited or conflicting research about “the true nature of traumatic brain injury and how it causes chronic degenerative problems,” treatment can be a challenging process for many patients. This means that often pharmaceutical medications are experimental. One medication may work for one patient, but might be ineffective for another TBI patient.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) recognizes that no two brain injuries and its symptoms, are alike, and that also means that treatments will vary by patient. The BIAA states that immediately following a brain injury, two things occur:
- Brain tissue reacts to the trauma from the injury with a series of biochemical and other physiological responses. Substances that once were housed safely within these cells now flood the brain, further damaging and destroying brain cells in what is called secondary cell death.
- Depending on the severity of brain injury, effects may include temporary loss of consciousness or coma, respiratory (breathing) problems, and/or damaged motor functions.
Cannabis has an ancient history of human use and is currently one of the most commonly used medications throughout the world. The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors all over the body. This system enables a connection between body and mind, signaling to all other systems when something feels good or bad. When the body is defensive against trauma or illness, this system begins to fail, resulting in physical, mental and/or neurological conditions. Medical marijuana can contribute to a patient’s overall health. Cannabis offers significant therapeutic benefits for a wide range of medical conditions.
There are numerous studies over the past two decades that outline the complexity of the cannabis plant and its interaction and direction of the endocannabinoid system. The American Friends of Tel Aviv University published a 2013 report which detailed how medical cannabis is often used by sufferers of chronic pain and ailments, including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. The researcher, Professor Yosef Sarne of the Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, described how cannabis has neuroprotective qualities, protecting the brain from long-term cognitive damage in the wake of injury from lack of oxygen, seizures, or toxic drugs.
In the lab, Sarne and his team “injected mice with a single, low dose of THC either before or after exposing them to brain trauma. A control group of mice sustained brain injury, but did not receive the THC treatment. When the mice were examined 3 to 7 weeks after initial injury, recipients of the THC treatment performed better in behavioral tests measuring learning and memory. Additionally, biochemical studies showed heightened amounts of neuroprotective chemicals in the treatment group compared to the control group.”
Sarne’s research, published in the journals Behavioural Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research, demonstrates that even extremely low doses of THC (around 1,000 to 10,000 times less than that in a conventional marijuana cigarette) administered over a wide window of 1 to 7 days before or 1 to 3 days after injury can jumpstart biochemical processes which protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function over time.
CBD is also an excellent option when integrating cannabis medicine into a healthcare routine. CBD (cannabidiol) is the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. CBD does not contribute to an intoxicating feeling as is prevalent with other cannabis use. CBD has been studied by researchers throughout the world. Research has shown that CBD can potentially:
- Reduce seizures
- Reduce anxiety
- Relieve pain, inflammation and nausea
- Relieve symptoms related to neurological disorders
- Reduce the size of tumors, stop the growth of tumors and can cause cancer cell death
Patient self-reporting and clinical trials are the most efficient methods of understanding how well medical cannabis can help even those with severe neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions. Patients may need to experiment with a variety of methods available for medical marijuana consumption. Each patient should consult their medical marijuana physician for a recommendation on the method and strain to meet each patient’s unique needs.