The damage done to the brain by physical trauma doesn’t end with the initial impact. In fact, much of the damage occurs in the minutes and hours following the physical injury (hint: that’s where cannabinoids come in). Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, and has demonstrated neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of three elements: #1: endocannabinoids made by the body (ie: anandamide and 2-AG); #2: enzymes required for their synthesis and degradation (ie: fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH)); #3: cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2).
The endocannabinoid system is associated with regulating a variety of processes that happen in the brain, so feeding this system cannabinoids from CBD oil positively influences these processes, particularly inflammatory pathways.
HOW DOES THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM RESPOND TO TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY?
CBD has a complex interaction with the ECS. Both CB1 and CB2 play a role in reducing the extent of injury after head trauma.
#1: Normally, there are far more CB1 receptors than CB2 receptors in the brain. However, after injury the number of CB2 receptors increases and influences macrophages. Macrophages are large white blood cells and are an important part of our immune system. A macrophage can locate and ‘eat’ particles, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Here’s more of what activating the CB2 receptors does to the brain:
- Activating CB2 receptors reduces brain inflammation by preventing the activity of pro-inflammatory cells (ie: M1 macrophages)
- Activating CB2 receptors enhances the activity of anti-inflammatory cells (ie: M2 macrophages)
- Results in reducing inflammation and helping keep brain cells alive.
- Activating CB2 receptors reduces the amount of brain cell death following injury.
- Activating CB2 receptors improves many behavioral outcomes after TBI, such as balance, coordination and managing anxiety.
#2: A head injury activates CB1 receptors to protect the brain from further injury.
- Activating CB1 receptors after a TBI reduces excitatory neurotransmitter release, thus preventing the cascade of events that lead to cell death. In an uninjured brain, the release of excitatory neurotransmitters, called glutamate, is highly regulated because too much glutamate kills brain cells. In TBI, the increase in glutamate can lead to brain cell death.
- Activating CB1 receptors block the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.
- Activating CB1 receptors reduces chemicals called reactive-oxygen species (ROS). After TBI, there’s an increase in ROS, which wreak havoc on brain cells by damaging your DNA, impairing protein function, and even causing cell death.
Together, these effects make brain cells more resilient following a multitude of post-TBI cellular events.
CBD OIL AND TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY
Supplementing cannabinoids from CBD oil provides multiple benefits.
#1: CBD activates CB1 and CB2 receptors.
#2: CBD is a potent antioxidant, which reduces the amount of damaging reactive-oxygen species.
#3: CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation and damage to brain cells that provide nourishment, support, and maintain homeostasis in the brain.
#4: CBD promotes neuron growth and development (a process called neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, an important brain region for learning and memory.
#5: CBD downregulates the FAAH enzyme, which allows more of the enzyme anandamide to stick around and therefore less is converted into the inflammatory fatty acid, Arachidonic acid. This ultimately supports healthy inflammatory levels, which is crucial for TBI recovery.
CBD has been shown to support healthy inflammatory levels and reduce damage to brain cells that provide nourishment, support, and maintain homeostasis in the brain. CBD can also promote neuron growth and development (aka: neurogenesis) in the hippocampus, an important region of the brain for learning and memory.
Another way to influence the endocannabinoid system is through omega-3 fatty acids. Here are ten ways fatty acids and the endocannabinoid system influence the brain.
If you want to try CBD to support your brain health, find a quality CBD oil. Start with small doses and increase your intake until you know how it affects you, and the dosage needed to produce the results you’re seeking. You will also want to check to make sure it does not interfere with any other medication you are taking.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
1. Watt G and Karl T. In vivo evidence for therapeutic properties of cannabidiol (CBD) for Alzheimer’s Disease. Front. Pharmacol. 8:20.
2. Kaplan J. Civilized. Rescuing the brain: how cannabis could protect against brain injury. Jan 2, 2018.