CBD for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

  • CTE is caused by repeated brain injury and is common among full-contact athletes such as football and hockey players and boxers.
  • CBD oil is being used by athletes to both prevent and treat CTE. 
  • CBD, a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis flowers is legal nationwide.
  • CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.

In this post, we’ll discuss using CBD oil to treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head traumas (concussions). CTE is most common among athletes in high contact sports such as football and hockey and boxing.  

In recent years, professional and amateur sports organizations alike have been opening up to the idea that CBD oil might be a safe and effective treatment for CTE pain. Moreover, CBD might actually protect neurons (brain cells) from damage caused by head trauma. And finally, CBD is proven effective at reducing symptoms of CTE such as irritability, aggression, depression, anxiety, and memory loss.

How do head injuries cause CTE?

Tissue known as tau protein is produced in the brain as a form of protection for injured brain cells. However, when the brain is repeatedly concussed, these tau proteins can clump together forming plaques that are very similar to those found in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. The symptoms of CTE are similar to Alzheimer’s as well.

The condition is characterized by moodiness, depression, headaches, agitation and aggression, loss of memory, and impaired thinking. In severe cases, patients may develop muscle spasticity — another condition common in degenerative brain disorders

CTE symptoms sometimes take years to appear after the damage has been done. According to the Journal of American Medicine, 99 percent of deceased NFL players with CTE symptoms were shown to have tau protein clumps upon autopsy.

Is there scientific evidence to support using CBD to treat CTE?

There is evidence that CBD (cannabidiol) might be a safe, natural, and effective alternative to pharmaceutical medications commonly used to treat CTE.

Here are the result of some studies related to the use of cannabis to treat degenerative brain conditions such as CTE. Links to these studies can be found at the end of the article.

  • Researchers in one study concluded that compounds in cannabis called cannabinoids act as neuroprotective agents and might counteract the damage done by traumatic brain injury in some patients.  
  • In another research project conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, mouse brains were exposed to toxic levels of neurotransmitters. The authors confirmed that the mouses that were treated with CBD showed that it protected neurons from damage. 
  • Canadian and Brazilian studies both found that cannabinoids stimulated neuron growth and reduced depressive and anxious behavior in mice and rats. 
  • And finally, in a survey performed in 2018, researchers observed that cannabinoids reduced pain and dizziness in a majority of patients suffering from concussions. 

These are just a few of the many studies that suggest that CBD might have extensive benefits for treating the damage and symptoms suffered by CTE patients.

How does medical marijuana help treat CTE?

The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a system via which the brain relays instructions to organs and individual cells throughout the body. When the brain detects an injury or imbalance, it releases endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced naturally by the human body) into the bloodstream. The brain is capable of producing scores of individual cannabinoids, each of which has its own function. 

The ECS is responsible for regulating a wide array of bodily functions. Some of the functions in which the ECS is involved include energy production, appetite, sleep cycles, and mood, as well as our responses to infection, stress, injury, and pain. 

Interestingly, the resinous female flowers of the cannabis plant produce compounds extremely similar to endocannabinoids called phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced in plants). There is also a class of synthetic cannabinoids called exogenous cannabinoids which includes prescription pharmaceuticals such as Marinol and dronabinol.

Because phytocannabinoids are so similar to our own natural cannabinoids they are non-toxic and well-tolerated. Cannabinoids are also non-addictive and produce no long-term side effects when used properly.

Unlike THC, CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid. CBD can be produced in phytocannabinoid-rich strains of hemp. Cannabis strains that produce less than 0.3 percent THC can be legally cultivated and processed in the U.S. without a marijuana business license.

One of CBD’s superpowers, so to speak, is its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Head trauma can cause inflammation in the brain. Although the inflammatory response is meant to protect the brain from damage, it’s not designed to assure a long life. Its responses — such as the production of tau proteins to protect neurons — can actually cause neural degeneration over the long term.  

CBD oil helps CTE patients in two ways. First, the use of CBD during and after contact sports might help to reduce inflammation in the brain and protect neurons from damage. This reduction in inflammation also reduces pain in many cases. 

Secondly, the use of CBD oil in the years following participation in contact sports can help to regenerate neurons. And in patients who have developed CTE, ongoing CBD use might help to relieve moodiness, agitation, headaches, memory loss, etc. 

Phytocannabinoids also act as antioxidants that can clean up toxins produced in response to inflammation and cellular damage thus protecting the aging brain from oxidative damage. 

Do you need a medical marijuana card to treat CTE with CBD oil?

It is believed by most medical marijuana doctors that THC and CBD work together to protect the brain from damage as well as to reduce pain and moodiness. Unfortunately, however, only Texas and Ohio currently allow the use of medical marijuana for treating CTE. Although some states, such as Florida allow medical marijuana doctors to decide which patients are good candidates.

Fortunately, a medical marijuana card is not necessary to purchase CBD oil. CTE patients can buy CBD online and have it delivered to their doorstep without fear of breaking marijuana laws as long as it was derived from hemp. 

Moreover, more than a dozen U.S. states allow adults 21 and older to buy marijuana and other cannabis-infused products at state-licensed marijuana dispensaries without a medical marijuana card.

That being said, patients suffering from a serious condition such as CTE should not be self-medicating. Ideally, treatment should be monitored by a qualified medical marijuana doctor. 

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