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Nowadays, it’s fairly common knowledge that cannabis can successfully treat some forms of epilepsy. Yet, what about epilepsy that’s brought on by head trauma? Post-traumatic epilepsy has a different cause than other forms of the condition. It happens after a severe brain injury. Yet, recent research shows that the herb may be able to help. Here’s how cannabis may help those with traumatic brain injury. 

Trauma-induced epilepsy

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There are several different types of epilepsy, all caused by different mechanisms. One type, however, happens after a traumatic brain injury.

If you have suffered a major head trauma, it’s not uncommon to have a seizure with a week after the accident. Yet, some seizures are recurrent and begin within the first two years. These recurrent seizures are classified as post-traumatic epilepsy.

The severity and type of seizures you have largely depend on the site and extent of the injury. If you have multiple injury sites, you may experience various kinds of seizures. Unlike other forms of epilepsy, it is easier for doctors to locate the exact source of seizure from traumatic injury.

Cannabis and traumatic brain injury

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Cannabis shows a significant amount of promise in treating traumatic brain injury. As just mentioned, traumatic brain injury can cause epileptic seizures. Yet, it can also cause fluid build-up, nerve damage, and trouble with movement, cognitive abilities, and communication.

Surprisingly, the U.S. Government has a patent on cannabinoids as neuroprotective antioxidants. The patent, Patent No. 6630507, actually cites head trauma as one of the conditions that cannabinoids protect against. Yet, this same government denies patients the right to use this medicine.

Even in the abstract, the patent explains,

The cannabinoids [in cannabis] are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.

Crazy thing? This government research was published back in the 1990s. In the near two decades since their initial investigation, the research on cannabis and head trauma has only become stronger.

Recent research into head trauma

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2001 research has shown that our bodies own endocannabinoids limit the release of pro-inflammatory proteins that cause further damage after brain injury.

Endocannabinoids are like the body’s own marijuana. THC and other compounds in cannabis interact with the same cell sites as the body’s own endocannabinoids. A 2004 study found that cannabinoids decreased neuron death in experimental models.

But, that’s not all. A 2013 study suggested that cannabinoid treatment may be useful to newborns who experienced a perinatal brain injury. Another 2013 study tested non-psychoactive CBD in newborn piglets that had suffered hypoxic-ischemia, a condition in which the brain is deprived of oxygen.

This oxygen deprivation caused brain damage. Researchers found that the cannabinoid successfully reduced excitotoxicity, which is the overstimulation of nerve cells. CBD also reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. These findings led the study authors to conclude that CBD has “robust neuroprotective effects”.

These neuroprotective effects have already been tested by one pharmaceutical company. The research focused on epilepsy, though not post-traumatic epilepsy in particular.

British GW Pharmaceuticals is well on it’s way to releasing it’s first cannabis-based epilepsy drug, Epidiolex. The drug is a purified form of CBD. In human clinical trials, Epidiolex effectively reduced seizures in 40% of patients. That’s about the same success rate as with common prescription anti-epileptics.

Can cannabis prevent damage before it starts?

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You can never predict whether or not you will have an accident or experience some sort of head trauma. Yet, some studies show that cannabis may lessen the extent of damage prior to the event.  

Research completed in 2014 found that brain injury patients with detectable levels of psychoactive THC in their systems at the time of the accident were less likely to die from the trauma.

All of these studies make a strong case for cannabis and brain health. While folks often claim that the herb causes brain damage, it sure seems like it does the opposite.

Back in 2001, a group of researchers treated rats with a compound that produced excitotoxicity. Some of the rodents were treated with psychoactive THC 30 minutes prior to toxin injection. Other rats were used as controls. They then used magnetic resonance imaging to look at their brains.

Shockingly, after 7 days, the rats treated with THC had 36% less neuronal damage than controls.

Though this study was done in rodents and not humans, 36% is a significant number. The cannabinoid reduced brain damage by over one third. Excitotoxicity is one of the major symptoms of traumatic brain injury. Nerve cells become damaged and overstimulated, the result is a variety of symptoms including seizure.

Further, seizures themselves can cause excitotoxicity as they continue to damage brain cells.

So, these studies suggest that cannabinoid treatments may be helpful as a preventative medicine and may also be helpful in those with conditions that cause repeated brain damage, like epilepsy. Though, we’ll need large-scale human trials to be sure.

Debbie Wilson’s miraculous story

Debbie Wilson lived through a nightmare. After 23 years of incurable epilepsy, her lungs failed and her heart stopped. Wilson was put on life support. Paralyzed in a hospital bed, Wilson’s body was unresponsive, yet her brain still had an inkling of life.

She listened as her doctor explained to her son that by many common measures, she was dead.

The brain is the last to die, and I was able to hear the ER doctor say my eyes were fixed and dialated, and I knew that meant I was dead. He said that I had coded, I also knew that meant I had died. And I remembered the overall feeling of peace that I had, and that was my second near-death experience.

Wilson’s seizures began after a traumatic brain she experienced in 1989. After lunch on an early July afternoon, Wilson was hit by a pick-up truck. Thus began a now over two decades long battle for survival.

After her seizures started, Wilson cycled through 19 different anti-epileptic drugs without success. Even worse, the high doses of medication caused her to lose her teeth, and her gallbladder and entire large intestine had to be removed. Something had to give.

Wilson’s herbal healing

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After her second near-death experience at a hospital in Florida, Wilson risked it all and got on a plane to Oregon. A high school friend was waiting for her there, and so was medical marijuana.

In an interview with Dope magazine, Wilson explains:

At first, I did it for my post-traumatic headaches. We didn’t even know it would help the epilepsy, [we] had no idea what it would do for the seizures. I have never had such relief in my life. I went from four grand mal seizures a week – that’s 16 a month – to four seizures… that first year.

After her move to Oregon, it took a few years before Wilson got her seizures completely under control. In the first year of cannabis treatment, her grand mal seizures reduced by 1000%. A grand mal seizure is what most people think about when they picture a seizure, a loss of consciousness and body convulsions.

But, it took another three years or so before she gained control over her life-threatening, cluster status seizures. These seizures occur in continuous groups, one right after the other. She had her first normal EEG in early 2014 after over two decades of brain trauma. Wilson couldn’t be more grateful for what the plant has done for her life.

Do be out of diapers, to be out of a helmet, is a quality of life that nobody can put into words.

All thanks to a herb.

What kind of cannabis does Wilson use?

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Wilson’s story is nothing short of amazing. Not only is her epilepsy under control, but she is “doing amazing” as a participant in a unique study on cannabis and dementia.

The herb has benefited a wide variety of other symptoms as well. Wilson explains that her high blood pressure, chronic wasting disease, post-traumatic headaches, five different types of seizures, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

To manage such complicated symptoms, Wilson is quite specific with how she uses cannabis. While part of her story is shared here, this simple write up is far from a complete picture of Wilson’s health.

So, while this incredible woman has figured out a cannabis regimen that works for her, every person will respond differently to the herb.

Though many credit CBD as the ultimate epilepsy treatment. Wilson’s grand mal seizures are better controlled with THC. Yet, for her partial complex cluster seizures, she needs high doses of CBD.

Wilson has found success with ACDC, a strain which consistently produces over 20% CBD while THC is under 1%. She consumes her cannabis in gel capsules. The capsules were made with the help of a pharmaceutical company, as Wilson is missing her gallbladder and large intestine.

Twice a day I take an epilepsy medicine and twice a day I take raw cannabis in a capsule as my neuroenhancer. And that allows me to think, to be able to have memory, to concentrate, to focus, to walk without a gate.

Debbie Wilson is just one patient. But, though her circumstances are unique, her story alone is one of the most moving and hard-hitting examples of the power of cannabis as medicine.

Using raw cannabis oil extracts, Wilson was able to get her life back. While she was once nearly pronounced dead on a hospital bed, she is now vibrant, alive, and filled with passion. Coupled with early research on the subject, who wouldn’t want to give this a try?

Has cannabis helped you or someone you know recover from a head trauma? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

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Delilah Butterfield

Delilah Butterfield is a Pacific Northwest native with a passion for cannabis and natural health. Contact her on Twitter @delilahbfield.
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