Can a Pill Replace Pot for Treating Concussions?
The Atlantic – In 2012, the former Pittsburg Steelers lineman Ralph Wenzel died from early-onset dementia. It was brought on by his severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease triggered by repeated concussions. Earlier this year, the former NFL fullback Kevin Turner was diagnosed with CTE, too, after dying from the disease at age 46. Doctors thought Turner had ALS until they performed the autopsy.
In a 2015 study, researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University examined the brains of 91 former NFL players. They found 96 percent showed signs of CTE. Many players suffering the debilitating mental effects of CTE have committed suicide—Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long, Chargers safety Paul Oliver, and Eagles safety Andre Waters, to name a few.
Some former NFL players, like Eugene Monroe, argue that marijuana could combat the debilitating long-term health effects of repeated concussions. But while NFL team owners are beginning to talk about the need to reform their policy, smoking weed continues to be a punishable offense.
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Miami may be on to a less contentious solution—a treatment with the medicinal benefits of marijuana but none of the psychoactive kick.
The researchers recently began a five-year study aimed at creating a pill that athletes could take after a concussion to avert brain damage. They plan to develop this pill using cannabidiol and dexanabinol. Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is one of the-113 plus chemical compounds found in cannabis known as cannabinoids. Dexanabinol is a synthetic cannabinoid. Current evidence suggests these two particular cannabinoids have the capability to disrupt the series of chemical reactions that follow a concussion and lead to brain-cell death. CBD activates receptors that trigger a cellular repair mechanism in the brain, while dexanabinol prevents calcium from accumulating in the cells and draining their energy.
“What that pill would do is stabilize the brain, so that when you get a head injury, there may only be a few brain cells that are injured to the point of no return,” says Michael Hoffer, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine who will conduct trials for the study. “There are a lot of brain cells at risk right around those cells. If we can stabilize those, we can prevent the dominos from falling.”
There is some evidence that this effect could be achieved simply by smoking marijuana, but the major benefit to working with isolated cannabinoids is that researchers can choose which compounds to use and which to exclude. With the cannabinoid THC absent, the concussion pill, which could be taken up to 24 hours after an injury, won’t get anyone high and presumably won’t inspire the institutional backlash of its leafy progenitor.
Stripped down to its cannabinoid components, marijuana has already made a powerful foray into the mainstream medical world. “We’re starting to learn more and more [about marijuana],” says Gillian Hotz, another researcher at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine who is working on the study. “It’s not [just] the guy who sits in the basement smoking a joint and playing video games anymore. We’re way past that.” Research suggests CBD may be effective for treating epilepsy and cancer. A few cannabinoid-based drugs, including nabilone and dronabinol, are commercially available for treating cancer side effects.
If the Miami team’s pill succeeds, the compound could become a neurological game changer. The Centers for Disease Control reports that about 1.28 million people suffer a concussion or other form of mild traumatic brain injury each year. And while professional football has grown notorious for its high concussion risk, the epidemic isn’t limited to the pros. From 2001 to 2005, 135,000 children ages 5 to 18 reported to the emergency room for concussions sustained while playing sports. While they are prevalent in football and boxing, concussions are common in sports ranging from basketball to hockey, with research suggesting female athletes actually experience them at a higher rate than males. Concussions are also widespread in the military, with 300,000 service members diagnosed between 2000 and 2015.
There is no prescription for concussions; the standard treatment is simply to rest until the symptoms fade. But the unseen damage from repeated concussions doesn’t really fade—and it can change the brain in ways that may take years to surface. For those unlucky enough to develop CTE, the brain gradually descends into a state of progressive degeneration associated with memory loss, impaired judgment, loss of impulse control, aggression, depression, suicidal thoughts, and—ultimately—dementia.
Despite the apparent need for research like theirs, the Miami research team has a challenging road ahead—starting with the legal hoops they must jump through to get the compounds they need. Marijuana, a schedule 1 drug, is notoriously difficult for researchers to obtain, and CBD is no easier. “As far as the DEA is concerned, they’re the same,” says Hoffer. “While almost all doctors have class 2 through 5 licenses, getting a class 1 addition to your license requires a lot of paperwork.”
When they begin clinical trials in about a year, the team will be stepping into relatively uncharted territory. Not only will this be the first large-scale study in the U.S. to look at cannabinoids as a treatment for concussions, it will be one of just a handful of concussion treatment studies currently underway.
“Designing treatments has not really taken off because, despite the fact that millions and millions of people are having concussions every year, we’ve just been behind the game,” says David Wright, a neurologist at the Emory University School of Medicine. Wright also studies traumatic brain injuries, although his work focuses on moderate to severe head trauma rather than concussions. In 2014, he led a study investigating the hormone progesterone’s effect on traumatic brain injuries. It proved unsuccessful despite promising preclinical trials.
“Right now, we’re all trying to better define the disease and figure out what in the world is going on,” he says.
One reason concussions are tricky to study is that they are difficult to define. There is no one characteristic doctors can use to diagnose a concussion beyond doubt. “It’s a clinical system, almost like a psychiatric disorder,” says Wright. “So there’s not currently a good marker.”
To deal with this, the Hoffer and his colleagues at the University of Miami will use I-Portal goggles, a device that measures eye movements to diagnose concussions with 95 percent specificity. The team tested the device with a 2014 grant from the NFL. Hoffer also says that each individual patient’s criteria will be clearly recorded, so that later on the researchers can see if all the patients with headaches, for example, respond differently from those with dizziness.
Another challenge will be figuring out how to measure whether patients’ brains are truly healing. “We don’t know what’s going on microscopically within their brain, but at least functionally their memory and things like that return back to normal [without treatment],” says Wright. The team plans to draw from peer-reviewed research to find measures that have proven successful in other studies.
Whatever the end result, Hotz believes the team’s quest for a concussion pill will be a meaningful step in traumatic brain-injury research, not to mention an imperative plunge into the medicinal components of one of the most hotly debated drugs in America. “Because cannabinoids and marijuana are getting such big press and usage now, I think somebody has to step out and start really doing the hard work, to really start looking at therapeutic windows, dosing, safety, and timing to make sure this is efficacious,” she says.The Atlantic – Some former NFL players argue that marijuana could combat the debilitating long-term health effects of repeated concussions. But smoking weed continues to be a punishable offense. Now, a team of researchers may be on to a less contentious solution.
Smoking Weed With a Concussion — Safety Concerns and Best Strains
Between 2 and 4 million concussions occur every year in North America.
Depending on the severity of the injury, concussion can be fatal. The death risk rate for those with a mild concussion is 2%.
This percentage goes up with the severity of the hit—it gets up to 30% for those with a more severe injury.
Thankfully, most people recover just fine.
That being said, there isn’t much you can do after you suffer a concussion: Usual directions are to get a lot of rest, sleep and take lots of fluids. The only medication your physician is likely to prescribe is something to soothe the headache.
If you’re a cannabis user, however, there’s probably one more question on your mind:
Is smoking weed with a concussion safe or not?
Well, as it turns out, cannabis is good at reducing brain swelling and helping your body recover from a head injury.
Let’s explore how.
What is a concussion?
In layman terms, concussion is basically a bruise on the brain.
A more thorough definition is that a concussion is a head injury caused by a blow to the skull. The blow produces a swelling on the brain and temporarily stops certain brain functions.
Concussion is the most common traumatic brain injury and can be also caused by a blow to the body that makes the brain bounce off the skull walls.
The brain floats in the skull and is surrounded by spinal fluid which acts as a buffer. When we suffer a hard blow, the inertia slams the brain on the skull wall—this has the potential to cause physical damage and abnormal chemical reactions in the brain, which can lead to a traumatic brain injury.
Most common causes of concussions in adults are car accidents, sports injuries and cycling accidents.
Children are also more prone to concussions—around two million kids visit the ER every year for concussion-related injuries.
Symptoms of a concussion
Most concussion symptoms occur almost immediately after the injury (or a few hours or days after), and last from several days to a week. In extreme cases, concussion symptoms can last up to a year.
Here are some common concussion symptoms:
- Vomiting and nausea
- Difficulties with motor skills and balancing
- Light sensitivity and seeing bright lights
- Blurred or double vision
- Speech difficulties
- Noise sensitivity
- Troubles concentrating and confusion
- Numbness in limbs
Often times, the smartest choice is to get checked out by a medical professional immediately after suffering a hard blow to the head.
Once a doctor gives a green light that there is no long-term risk related to the injury, it’s time for rest.
All the injured brain needs to recover is to take some time off from physical and cognitive exertion.
This includes abstaining from studying, working hard, socializing, exposure to bright light and loud noises and staying away from sports and workouts, at least for some time.
Doctors even recommend not playing video games, texting and reading.
As I’ve said, there is no specific medication for a concussion, but doctors can prescribe painkillers for treating headaches or something to help with the sleep— sleeping problems are quite common after this type of injury.
But let’s cut to the chase.
Can cannabis help the brain heal faster after a concussion?
T here’s a lot of scientific and anecdotal evidence that marijuana can help the brain heal faster and protect it from neural damage.
I was interested in finding the truth so I set about to find some concussion-related cannabis studies.
There aren’t many of them, but combined with what we previously know on the health benefits of cannabis, we can make an objective conclusion.
CBD reduces brain inflammation tweet this
CBD is known by now as an anti-inflammatory agent and there are a few studies that prove that cannabis reduces all sorts of swelling and inflammation in our system, including brain inflammation.
According to a 2015 study published in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex, the endocannabinoid system plays a very important role when it comes to our brain recovering from the injury. (1)
In fact, researchers found that cannabinoids (particularly CBD) can even protect our cells against the damage before and after the injury.
How Does CBD Actually Work?
Cannabis helps reduce post-concussion syndrome symptoms tweet this
Cannabis is famous for its positive effects on chronic pain, sleep, appetite and even depression, so it’s no wonder why people turn to it immediately after suffering a concussion.
Unfortunately, only the state of Illinois has approved the use of medical marijuana for treating post-concussion syndrome symptoms.
Most states and provinces in Canada have approved medical cannabis for some of these symptoms separately, which may be a good way around this.
Cannabinoids have neuroprotective properties tweet this
Even the US government admits it: Cannabinoids have neuroprotective properties and the ability to limit the neurological damage and consequences of strokes and head injuries (such as a concussion).
That is the reason why cannabinoids have found their application in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
CBD has especially shown neuroprotective properties, but one study found evidence that THC may also protect our brain, if administered before the injury.
In a 2014 study published by the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, researchers found that concussion patients who had THC in their blood at the time when the accident occurred were less likely to die from a brain injury. (2)
Best strains for concussion
Exclusive bonus: Download a free cannabis dosage guide that will show you the exact step-by-step process Dr. Dustin Sulak used to successfully treat more than 18,000 patients with marijuana.
In North America you can get a prescription for medical marijuana for treating separate concussion symptom (except in Illinois where you can get a prescription for post-concussion syndrome symptoms).
If you’re in Canada, be sure to use Strainblazer, our strain finder tool to help you refine your search.
Strains for headaches and pain
Headaches are pretty common after head injuries.
Certain sativa and indica strains, as well as hybrids, have painkilling properties, which is very beneficial for overcoming headaches and migraines.
These strains can help you get rid of headaches, as well as some other accompanying symptoms.
This could very well be the strain to help you with all concussion symptoms, as it reportedly helps soothe headaches, pain, stress, and depression.
Harlequin is also great at reducing inflammation. It contains high levels of CBD which diminishes the psychoactive effects of THC and stops marijuana-induced paranoia.
A pure classic, OG Kush is one of the most popular strains in the world so you won’t have trouble finding it in your area. It crushes stress, kills pain and swipes away the migraines. With THC levels around 20%, OG Kush will put you to sleep as it starts to wear off.
Blue Dream is a perfect strain for daytime rest since it does not provide heavy sedation. This high THC strain is great for treating pain and nausea. Blue Dream is actually perfect for balancing slight euphoria and body relaxation.
Cannabis for Migraines: Can It Reduce Migraine Frequency?
Strains for sleep
After suffering a concussion you’ll need lots of naps.
After a medical observation, your doctor will most probably recommend home rest — no work, no heavy physical activities, no phones, and computers. Just a lot of rest and sleep.
Here are a few strains to help you get into a deep slumber.
This is a very potent strain, so novice users should be very cautious with it. Keep the dosage low until you get used to it. It releases the body tension leading to a good night’s sleep.
It’s great for severe pain as well as mild headaches.
A beneficial high-THC strain, Northern Lights relaxes all the muscles in the body, gradually introducing peaceful sleep. It’s also known to relieve pain and boost appetite.
Cookie Jar is perfect for those who have suffered a head injury since it provides a relief from pain helps get your sleep under control. Many patients have been using it for treating insomnia with success.
Strains for fatigue
After suffering a concussion, you’ll probably feel more tired than ever. So, to get you back on track, here are a few strains for daytime fatigue to give you a little energy boost.
This strain is known as a happy strain. Jillybean has a sweet and fruity aroma, produces a slight head buzz, but does not weigh down the body.
With a nice body buzz, Pineapple Express is used for treating a number of medical conditions such as chronic depression, stress, and fatigue.It also reduces mild pains and headaches while it fills you with all the energy you need.
Green Crack is a potent sativa that can really increase your high-time productivity, even though the name suggests otherwise.
The vigor from this strain can possibly be a bit too much for the gentler users, so make sure you consume it in a non-threatening environment for the most pleasant effect. On the other hand, if you take your weed as strong as possible, you’ll have no problem with it pretty much anywhere.
Strains for depression, anxiety and stress
Suffering a head injury like a concussion can be really stressful, so here are a few strains to help you overcome feelings of loss and despair and recover faster.
Need a laugh in these hard times? No problem, Laughing Buddha is perfect for laughs and giggles. However, this is a really potent strain, so those who are not really experienced should take it easy.
An excellent strain for depression, stress, fatigue, nausea, and headaches that makes you feel happy and relaxed.
Jack Herer is simply known as the nature’s antidepressant. It uplifts the mood, creativity, and boosts focus. Named after a famous activist, Jack Herer gives you a full body bliss and a clear head, perfect for battling the post-injury depression.Marijuana has promising effects on brain recovery from an injury, but can we claim that it’s safe to smoke weed with a concussion? You bet. ]]>