Will Cannabidiol Help Heal Traumatic Brain Injuries?
By Keith Alban
Brain injuries are a constant risk that every human being faces on a daily basis. Our central nervous system and spine are the most critical parts of the physical body to sustaining our quality of life. For athletes in contact sports, the risk of brain injuries may be significantly higher, but it's still a risk we all face. Statistics show that around 1% of the population in developed countries experience some sort of traumatic brain injury each year. Those numbers are somewhat shocking and may not even include certain types of injuries to the brain.
Whether it's a fall, car accident, sport-related, a fight, or any other type of accident, brain injuries have the potential to dramatically alter a life in an instant. A minor concussion may not affect someone like the major brain and spinal cord injuries, but they still create damage that can potentially cause problems down the line. All injuries to our precious brain are tragic and tough to see someone going through. This article is meant to examine the potential healing benefits of CBD and several other nutrients for brain injuries.
It can be an extremely frightening experience when any type of brain-based trauma suddenly occurs and we're not sure what to do next. On top of all the pain, the fear of the unknown compounds the physical, mental, and emotional trauma even more. We all know that if any traumatic injury occurs, the next step should be to go to the hospital or see a specialist to get examined and diagnosed. Many people may wonder if there are there any options that can help stimulate healing and recovery in addition to standard medical care. The answer is a resounding yes, which is the purpose of writing this. As millions of people witness the unprecedented and meteoric rise of CBD, many are left wondering if it is a fad that will die down, or legitimate medicine that's here to stay.
The research done up to this point far certainly points to it being here to stay and offering legitimate medicinal value. One of the areas that CBD is showing excellent promise is for brain injuries and neurodegenerative conditions. It's been somewhat surprising that something as gentle and user-friendly as CBD can have such a seemingly profound impact on these types of conditions. The number of receptors and mechanisms in the body that it influences seems to be responsible for the multifaceted benefits being seen in preliminary research. So what exactly are the potential benefits of this humble cannabinoid?
The Science of CBD on Brain Injuries
A 2012 study on rats showed that when CBD was administered following a brain injury, it helped reduce the severity of the injury and improved brain functioning. Researchers took newborn rats and restricted oxygen levels, stimulating a hypoxic brain injury. CBD supplementation following the injury helped to protect the brain and reduce inflammation that occurred from the oxygen deprivation. The CBD also helped to decrease impaired behaviors and reduce the overall damage that was done. (1) The positive results were both short and long term for the rats in this study.
Other research has shown that CBD, as well as other cannabinoids, may help to reduce the neural damage from brain injuries. The mechanisms of action of how CBD accomplishes this within the brain are fairly vast and only beginning to be discovered. Some of the proposed mechanisms that CBD seems to positively influence include reducing beta-amyloid plaque, calming neuroinflammation, preventing or decreasing glutamate based excitotoxins from damaging brain cells, activating microglial cells, and upregulating protective mechanisms in the brain. That is, as long as CBD can cross the blood-brain barrier, which many products aren’t able to without a specialized delivery system. (2)
A 2017 study that was performed at the Salk Institute showed that cannabinoids may help to decrease the damage of certain compounds in the brain that are synonymous with dementia. A somewhat similar result was found in Alzheimer's as well. What the study showed is that CBD may actually help to slow down and even halt certain degenerative processes that can occur within the brain. This is quite powerful for a natural compound, although more research is needed within the human brain. (3,4)
A study that was done by Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2017 found that the endocannabinoid system contains receptors and enzyme targets that can help improve a wide range of traumatic brain injuries. (11) CBD may also positively impact some of the secondary damage of a traumatic brain injury and concussion. These can be symptoms such as anxiety, increased fear, depression, trouble sleeping, trouble focusing and completing cognitive tasks that were simple prior to the injury, changes in personality, irrational thoughts and more. CBD may help some of these issues that can arise, although it requires a more comprehensive approach to work with all of these symptoms. Anyone with a brain injury or concussion that wants to supplement with CBD should consider using a nano-emulsion or liposomal based CBD product. These specialized delivery systems may allow CBD to have a more direct effect on brain cells.
Important Deficiencies That Influence Brain Trauma Outcomes
There are quite a few other supplements that would pair extremely well with CBD for brain injuries & concussions. Magnesium is extremely valuable following any brain injury. After certain types of brain traumas, magnesium levels dramatically decline within the brain. Some figures show around a 50% drop in magnesium following a traumatic injury. This sudden drop of magnesium puts most people at a very low level of endogenous magnesium when the brain and body need it most. Using magnesium may help to speed recovery, decrease or delay post-concussion syndrome, reduce inflammation, and activate certain mechanisms that help with healing. (5)
Most people are very deficient in magnesium, so supplementing is extremely important following any type of accident. There's also a form of magnesium called magnesium L- threonate that helps shuttle higher amounts of magnesium in the brain, which would be ideal following trauma. Magnesium glycinate is another very good form to use, although it won’t get into the brain like the threonate form. Using both forms in high doses would be an excellent plan for any type of brain injury. Zinc is another nutrient that we hear about and often see in multivitamins, but most athletes and people aren't told that zinc levels plummet following a concussion or brain injury.
Doctors and hospitals should be giving people a list of supplements during their initial visit to aid recovery and to use on a regular basis. Not taking these measures may cause more overall damage and limit healing capacity in those crucial weeks following an injury. According to a clinical study, people are at risk for zinc deficiency following any type of brain injury. TBI patients showed significantly higher urinary zinc levels (more zinc excretion) for weeks following an injury as well as lowered serum zinc levels. (6) Most forms of zinc in multivitamins and supplements aren't well absorbed at all, look for a zinc monomethionine or a patented form called Optizinc. It's not possible to absorb more than 10-12mgs of zinc at a time, yet most supplements have 30-50 mgs per serving. It's much better to take a smaller amount 2-3 times per day rather than a larger amount once per day.
The Value of Turmeric & Curcumin Extracts For Brain Injuries
Another supplement that has tremendous value for brain injuries is turmeric extract. Turmeric & curcumin have the ability to decrease the swelling and inflammation that can occur following an injury. There are compounds called cytokines that can cause further damage after the initial damage is done. While cytokines play an important role in the body, it is desirable for certain cytokines to be lowered within the body and brain at times. Several studies have shown that turmeric extracts may help to increase a compound called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. (7) Perhaps the most powerful benefit of turmeric for traumatic brain injuries and concussions comes from a compound called ar-turmerone.
This compound ar-turmerone is one of many turmerones that are found in the rhizome of the root. Powerful research was done at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine and published in Stem Cell Research & Therapy showing that ar-turmerone boosts the production of stem cells in the brain. (8) When stem cell production in a certain area is increased, it helps increase cellular healing and repair. This is because stem cells can differentiate into any type of cell the body or brain needs. Stem cell therapies are on the rise because of this seemingly miraculous ability to adapt to different types of cells that help heal and repair the body. Other research has noted that turmeric and curcumin extracts have at least 10 known protective actions within the brain. (9)
Time and time again, turmeric has been proven in scientific research, but there are some caveats to be aware of. It is very important to be careful when purchasing turmeric and not just buy a random turmeric powder or product. Most turmeric on the market is laden with toxic heavy metals like lead, mercury, nickel, cadmium, and arsenic in samples and tests. Turmeric naturally contains properties that may attract and help detoxify these metals out of the body and from nature, but when grown in tainted soil, they will soak them up. Unfortunately, the majority of soil around the world now is somewhat tainted. Look for an extract in liposomal form or some enhanced delivery that's been thoroughly tested for all those heavy metals.
Additional Nutrients With Value
Several other nutrients may also help to significantly improve outcomes for certain types of brain injuries. N-Acetyl Cysteine, also known as NAC, has been shown to attenuate and even reverse some of the behavioral changes that can occur with a traumatic brain injury in mice. NAC helps to increase something called glutathione, which is a very protective compound that can decrease with injuries. Traumatic brain injuries are said to have both primary and secondary damage that occurs. NAC may have protective properties against some of the secondary damage that can accrue from brain injuries. (10) There is no guarantee what has been seen in some animal or human research will translate to every case, but certain supplements can offer great value with minimal to no side effects.
Other nutrients such as R-lipoic acid, PQQ or pyrroloquinoline quinone, gastrodin, GliSODin, carnosine, acetyl-l-carnitine, creatine, CoQ10, omega fatty acids, pterostilbene, barley grass juice powder, pregnenolone, and many other supplements and nutrients have very good value. Nutrients such as PQQ and gastrodin have impressive research for the brain and brain-based traumas, as do many others on this list. Putting together a supplement protocol can go a long way towards a swifter, more thorough healing. Damage is happening every day following any type of brain injury and a percentage of that damage may be mitigated by supplementing with certain nutrients. This is by no means a guarantee that supplements will automatically help, but the body responds to many different nutrients on this list.
The idea is to stack the odds in your favor and stimulate as much healing as you possibly can to go along with whatever conventional medical treatment you may be receiving. Doctors and hospitals usually don’t utilize or even know about natural compounds that have powerful research for conditions such as traumatic brain injuries and concussions. We hope this article helps you feel some hope if you're dealing with any brain-based trauma and feel less than your optimal self. There are many other nutrients and therapies not mentioned in this article that have healing potential as well. Feel free to contact us if you would like help with any type of trauma or injury you're dealing with.
1. Pazos, M. R., Cinquina, V., Gómez, A., Layunta, R., Santos, M., Fernández-Ruiz, J., & Martínez-Orgado, J. (2012). Cannabidiol administration after hypoxia–ischemia to newborn rats reduces long-term brain injury and restores neurobehavioral function. Neuropharmacology,63(5), 776-783