CTE: Why The Power Of Cannabis Is A Promising Treatment

When a brain is injured, it’s good to have some cannabis around. The herb may be the next big treatment for Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Jan 2, 2017

For many, the idea of using cannabis as a brain-health supplement is a little unnerving. Can a psychoactive substance really help heal the brain? Some researchers and pharmaceutical companies are betting on it. But, patients don’t need to get high to feel the beneficial effects of the herb. Here’s why cannabis is a promising treatment for CTE.

What is CTE?

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Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive brain disorder caused by recurrent brain trauma. Recently, the condition has gotten a lot of attention due to its prevalence in former NFL players. CTE can develop after several symptomatic or asymptomatic concussions.

Over the course of the disease, brain tissue begins to degenerate over time. The damaged tissue causes the buildup of a protein called tau. Similar to Alzheimer’s Disease, in which amyloid-beta proteins create plaques in the brain, excess tau further damages brain cells.

Symptoms of CTE include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgement
  • Difficulties with impulse control
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Progressive dementia

Interestingly, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) also plays a key role in managing memory, mood, cognition, and risk and reward. The ECS is the largest neurotransmitter system in the body.

The active compounds in cannabis, psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and nonpsychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) engage the endocannabinoid system, giving them therapeutic effects.

How might cannabis help CTE?

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CTE patients don’t have to get high to benefit from the healing power of cannabis. One company, Kannalife Sciences, wants to create a drug that can prevent traumatic brain damage.

Since 2014, the independent pharmaceutical company has tested nonpsychoactive CBD for the treatment of CTE in animal models.

Unfortunately, no human trials have yet been completed. But, Dr. Bill Kinney, the chief scientific officer at Kannalife, is excited about the results thus far. He tells Sports Illustrated,

We know that CBD is neuroprotective. We have seen effects in both protecting against cell death and increasing cell viability… We think CBD could protect the neurons from future injury and also help them repair. – Kinney

Simply stated, CBD protects brain cells from damage and improves recovery after that damage is done. Kinney is not the only scientist who sees cannabis as a potentially life-saving therapy for brain injuries.

Patent No. 6630507, filed by the U.S. Government, asserts that CBD is a neuroprotective antioxidant. It was filed in 1999, over 10 years before the CBD craze echoed across the world.

The patent affirms that cannabinoids, the compounds in the marijuana plant can prevent damage after brain trauma. The document states,

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. – Patent 6630507

The patent was based on research conducted by Nobel Prize-winning biochemist, Julius Axelrod.

These neuroprotective properties are what make CBD a promising new treatment for CTE. Studies on CTE alone are lacking. However, those at Kannalife Science are hard at work researching the herb’s healing potential.

In the meantime, research shows that those who test positive for THC after a traumatic brain injury are less likely to die from said injury. Other research has shown that microdoses of THC can prevent inflammation in the brain of rodents after injury.

These studies are far from perfect, but they do point to the potential value of cannabis treatments both pre and post injury.

Jan 2, 2017