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Medical Marijuana and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

September 30, 2019 • Lakewood Medical • Uncategorized

Ohio is currently the only state that has approved medical cannabis as a therapy for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head traumas.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder characterized by changes in mood and memory, has been traced to repeated concussions occurring over a long period. Much of the research regarding CTE has focused on football players who suffer blows to the head during games. Hockey players and battlefield soldiers fighting among explosive blasts are also at risk of developing CTE.

Repetitive head traumas cause a build-up of the protein tau in the brain, a leading indicator of CTE and a condition also seen in Alzheimer’s disease patients. In a normal brain, tau stabilizes brain cells. But when this protein forms clumps after repeated concussions it destroys neurons and cripples brain function. 

Currently, the only way to definitively diagnose CTE is through an autopsy of the brain of someone suspected of having CTE. That’s when the clusters of tau are uncovered, as was demonstrated in a collaborative study between Boston University Medical School and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Researchers examined the brains of 177 deceased NFL players. Results showed 99% had signs of CTE. The study also included 53 college and 14 high school football players. More than 90% of the college players and 21% of the high schoolers exhibited CTE traits.

A progressive disease, CTE does not result from a single, isolated concussion, but a series of head blows occurring over many years. So far, CTE treatment addresses the symptoms, which include depression, headaches, short-term memory loss, aggression, mood swings, and impaired thinking. Those symptoms may not manifest until several years after the brain injuries took place, making early diagnosis and intervention difficult. Therefore, people who play contact sports or have had a concussion are advised to protect their heads from injury to prevent the onset of CTE. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy may help lessen some of those symptoms. Yet recent studies have pointed to another treatment option: medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana and CTE

The two active ingredients in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol, or CBD — interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which controls mood, memory, and cognition. Because THC and CBD connect with the endocannabinoid system, they boost the system’s ability to protect the neurons in the brain after a trauma. A 2002 study on rats and mice concluded that these neuroprotective agents could counteract the negative effects of a traumatic brain injury, including symptoms like swelling. 

Another research project conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health further highlighted THC’s and CBD’s neuroprotective qualities when the brain is exposed to toxic levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter responsible for memory and learning. Similarly, a 2013 study from Brazil suggested CBD supports cell regeneration in mice.

In a human study, a 2018 study found medical marijuana reduced chronic pain and dizziness associated with a concussion in a majority of patients. Taken together, these and other studies suggest medical marijuana’s potential to help heal a brain after a head blow, possibly reducing the troublesome symptoms of CTE.

Do You or a Loved One Suffer From CTE?

Ohio is currently the only state that has approved medical marijuana as a therapy for CTE. If you believe you or a loved one suffer from CTE, our compassionate doctors will review your case and decide whether a recommendation for medical cannabis can ease the symptoms and improve quality of life. Our staff will also guide you through the process of obtaining medical marijuana. Contact us today for a consultation.