There is growing public interest in marijuana as a useful medicine for a number of physiologic conditions. It should be no surprise that more doctors are asking if the noble weed may hold some answer for those with traumatic brain injury that currently need better therapeutic solutions. A recent study shines a brighter light on this possibility.
Traumatic brain injury or TBI is just that, damage to the brain caused by an external force. Although much of the mention of this condition has been recently related to football players and veterans of war zones, it affects people of ages, from all walks of life. Although the brain is housed in our hard, protective skull, even one sudden blow can mean profound changes for an individual.
Over 2 million visits to the ER each year are related to TBI events like concussion from auto accidents, falls and assaults. Falls account in 50 percent of TBI in children under 14 years old and over 60 percent of seniors. It is the leading cause of disability and premature death in the world. The economic impact in the US alone has been estimated at $75 billion a year. The impact to people’s lives cannot be measured in dollars.
There have been over 30 failed clinical trials searching for better treatments for TBI, resulting in no significant effect worthy of becoming a pharmaceutical therapy. This has had a chilling effect on similar research.
These failed trials did all have one in thing in common; they didn’t involve cannabis. This is surprising considering that it has been shown that activating the innate cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) reduces brain swelling and neurological impairment.
Cannabinoid 2-AG is released in the brains of mice following brain injury, though not enough to protect the damaged brain. The fact that 2-AG is released naturally following a brain injury made the team question whether more would be better.
A single dose of plant derived 2-AG was administered to brain damaged mice. The mice who received treatment improved in cognitive function, motor function and every parameter they examined, even months later. The study was a fantastic success. Of course, in a lab setting the scientists had the advantage of being able to administer the dose of 2-AG shortly after brain injury, a key element in the success that could be harder to implement in a real life setting.
This study has serious clout. It was led by a top team from Hebrew University in Israel including the godfather of cannabis research, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who first identified THC.
Pharmaceutical companies may not enthused that outcomes showed that a single dose of the cannabinoid can have profound positive effects, but they cannot ignore this high profile and exceedingly successful outcome considering the years of other failed efforts.
Research like this means it is not fantastic to predict a world where paramedics and even athletic trainers on the sidelines of contact sports have access to cannabinoids. If doctors one day agree that a single dose applied right after a concussion or more serious accident can have a profound effect, it would be criminal to deny access.