Brain injury is invisible for many, is CBD the answer?

CBD for brain injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI), annually affects over 69 million people globally and accounts for around 10 million deaths, with young men over-represented as being at greater risk. Survivors of TBI face life-changing physical, cognitive and psychological impacts that not only diminish the quality of life but can also reduce life expectancy. Recent evidence indicates CBD has a protective effect on brain cells following TBI, in particular increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation, thereby helping to minimise further damage in the days, weeks, and months following injury. Already well documented are the positive effects CBD has in alleviating anxiety, stress, depression, pain, and mood swings, all symptoms associated with TBI.

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about”…

What is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

Any external force such as a violent blow to the head can be severe and for a good reason, setting off a catalogue of events that result in TBI. These events include swelling, immune activation, and inflammation. TBI causes neurological damage as a direct result of a catastrophic impact injury to the head. Footballers, boxers, military veterans, and car crash survivors are examples of individuals who may sustain a TBI. These types of injury result in life-changing, long-lasting debilitating effects. TBI may be the result of:

  • Being physically assaulted
  • Being struck by an object whilst engaging in sport
  • Car accidents
  • Falls
  • Fights

Each TBI is unique therefore is complex depending on several factors, such as the severity of the acquired injury, location of head trauma, gender, and individual age. Outcomes vary with prognosis better for some than others. As well as the physical impairments, there can be significant emotional and behavioural changes in the individual with TBI.

With TBI there is often the primary injury (damage to the brain at the time of impact), however, the cascade effect of the initial impact can result in a trigger for a secondary injury with ongoing cellular damage to the brain, causing many neurological issues associated with TBI.

Impacts of TBI on key areas of the brain

  • Frontal lobes TBI result in behavioural changes and cognitive functioning
  • Cerebellum TBI affects balance and coordination
  • Brainstem TBI impacts arousal and heart rate
  • Mild to moderate symptoms associated with TBI often resolve within a few days or weeks after the initial injury, however severe and catastrophic impacts tend to be life-changing.

Some generic symptoms of TBI

  • Anxiety
  • Behavioural effects
  • Cognitive difficulties / decline
  • Coma and reduced awareness states
  • Communication problems
  • Depression
  • Emotional changes
  • Fatigue after brain injury
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Impaired memory and learning
  • Post-traumatic amnesia
  • Reduced motor function
  • Sleep disorders

Research indicates CBD can be beneficial in helping the healing process of TBI. At its heart is the response to the crucial endocannabinoid system (ECS) of the body, which is crucial to the repair mechanisms of the brain.

How beneficial is CBD in the helping with TBI

The non-psychoactive component of CBD can stimulate or dampen the endocannabinoid receptors, that are naturally created within the human body. These receptors are found in the brain as well as other organs and tissues (see our article How CBD interacts with Endocannabinoid System). Evidence suggests the ECS becomes activated in response to trauma and injury. CBD already has proven effects in the management of Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s. Short term studies (2 to 7 days) indicate using CBD prevents further cognitive and emotional impairment, reducing neuroinflammation for a further three weeks after the initial acquired TBI.

1. CBD acts as a neuro protector

Within minutes after sustaining a TBI, a set of chain reactions occur in the brain causing cellular damage and additional changes to neurotransmitters becomes evident. These transmitters influence neurons in a number of ways including increases or decreases in activity.

Within the first hour post-TBI, glutamate is either immediately released causing neuronal injury, cell death and damage to the surviving neurons; alternatively, glutamate release is delayed resulting in cognitive and muscle (motor) dysfunction. Current research indicates the positive effects CBD has in protecting against glutamate damage, reducing stress and protecting the brain cells, thereby promoting faster recovery times.

2. CBD as an anti-inflammatory

The ECS regulates inflammation within the body. CBD is well known for its powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, exerting their effects in a few different ways including combating glutamate effects, removing damaged or dead cells, improving blood flow, reducing inflammation and inhibiting further destruction of brain tissue.

3. CBD helping to combat the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression

Individuals with TBI suffer behavioural impacts, notably stress, anxiety and depression due to changes in neurotransmitter levels post-injury and effects on mental health due to additional temporary or permanent physical and psychological changes, as well as family/social issues. The positive effects associated with taking CBD are well documented.

In conclusion, why CBD for TBI

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about”…

TBI is a complex condition. The hours, days, weeks and months following TBI are critical due to the ongoing cascade of bio-chemical events occurring within the brain. TBI patients can find conventional medication including opiates, antidepressants and anticonvulsants ineffective, so given its positive effects, those affected by TBI are finding CBD beneficial in managing and alleviating symptoms.

It is important to always discuss any changes you are contemplating with your doctor before taking any other treatment or drugs while rehabilitating from TBI.

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