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Medical Cannabis: An Alternative Approach to TBI Recovery

A few years ago, a teenage boy endured a concussion while playing soccer. He had been having relenting symptoms for 2 months, with no relief after trying many therapeutic outlets and time off from school and sports. His mother was at a complete loss and felt helpless for not being able to find some sort of solution for her son.

After reaching out to a Holistic Cannabis Practitioner, the mother was recommended that her son explored an alternative approach: medical cannabis. With no other outlet to try and in hopes of relieving some of her son’s symptoms, the mother went ahead and had her son start taking CBD. Soon thereafter, the mother reached back out to the Holistic Cannabis Practitioner with raving reviews.

“He is like a new person!”

“All of his symptoms are gone.”

What is Medical Cannabis?

This medicinal approach to marijuana, uses a marijuana plant or the chemicals found within it to treat conditions and diseases. It is the same marijuana plant that is used for recreational marijuana, however taken for medical purposes.

Within a marijuana plant there are over 100 varying chemicals that are called cannabinoids, that each have their own effect on the body. The two that are mainly used for medicinal purposes are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannbinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Research has shown that medical cannabis has had benefits for many conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma, just to name a few. The greatest amount of research supports cannabis’ therapeutic effects and strength in its ability to reduce chronic pain. Reducing chronic pain for brain injury survivors is crucial. Could medical cannabis be a missing puzzle piece in your recovery journey?

There is limited research on the positive medicinal effects that cannabinoids may have. Even with inadequate exploration on its benefits, there have been findings that suggest that cannabinoids might help to:

  1. Reduce inflammation,

  2. Relieve pain,

  3. Reduce anxiety,

  4. Control nausea and vomiting and,

  5. Relax tight muscles.

All these potential benefits could lead to astronomical gains and immense quality of life improvements for those recovering from a brain injury.

The Use of Medical Cannabis to Treat TBIs

As we all know, there is not a single pharmacological agent that has enough therapeutic efficacy to single handily treat a TBI. A treatment regimen for TBI is a cocktail of therapies and pharmacological agents. Cannabinoids are more commonly being included within these cocktails due to pre-clinical TBI research suggesting that they have neuroprotective and psychotherapeutic properties.

Neuroprotection means the recovery or regeneration of the nervous system, its cells, structure and function. All of which typically need healing following a head injury.

Psychotherapeutic approaches aim to treat subsequent emotional battles that result from a brain injury through a psychological approach rather than medicine. Psychotherapists sometimes use cannabis to help unlock the mind of their patients through what they call cannabis-assisted therapy.

The alterations of neural functioning following the use of medical cannabis remain poorly understood within TBI patients, however it merits further exploration based on primary findings. As of July 2021, here have only been 5 published studies and 3 published abstracts that researched human studies of medical cannabis and TBI.

The heterogeneity of TBI causing it to manifest with varying clinical features based on its severity, mechanism of injury, underlying pathology, and comorbidities, makes its utterly complex to study the interactions with cannabis treatment. The complexity of an individual’s TBI, can also lead cannabis to improve some symptoms, while worsening others. This possible detriment makes it a trial-and-error situation when experimenting with medical cannabis. However, with strong evidence, cannabis has been shown to activate innate cannabinoid receptors within the body that reduce brain swelling and neurological impairment, two primary sources of exhaustive symptoms for brain injury survivors, so many are taking the leap of faith to find the relief they deserve.

Accessibility to Medical Cannabis

Recent legalization efforts in most of the United States and Canada have increased the accessibility to medical cannabis, leading to more TBI patients considering it for a possible treatment (2). But this is not to say, that it is easy to access medical cannabis. The primary obstacle to accessing medical cannabis is:

TBI is not considered to be a qualifying condition within the US.

However, recent observational and case studies have shown that cannabis is being used by patients to alleviate their TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) symptoms, even though TBI may not have been the diagnosis leading to their medical marijuana prescription (2). This means that individuals have been prescribed medical cannabis based on another diagnosis that they have, however have seen relief in the symptoms that they were experiencing that resulted from a brain injury.

Jannabis Wellness

Janice Newell Bissex MS, RDN, FAND is a Holistic Cannabis Practitioner and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who will be featured in our upcoming Webinar Wednesday!

The story at the beginning of this blog is from a client of Janice’s from a few years ago! She has been a life-changing resource for many individuals and she could guide you towards the therapeutic approach that has been missing from your brain injury recovery.

For 15 years Janice spent her career helping families provide a healthy diet for themselves. In 2016, her dad had been suffering severe pain and was not finding any relief from his prescribed medications. Janice had heard about medical cannabis emerging into the pain relief scene and decided to ask her dad’s doctor about the possibility of it providing him some relief. The doctor reassured her that yes, it could work and together they all decided to move forward with it. Like any good daughter, Janice began to do extensive research on cannabis and chronic pain.

Having grown up in the day in age where marijuana had been thought to be a gateway drug and held a lot of negative stigmata, Janice was scared, but she was also desperate to find a solution for her dad. With her extensive research she discovered that cannabis had been used for 1000s of years medicinally and was only really within the past 80 years that it had been deemed illegal in most places! She was stunned!

Janice’s dad did go ahead with trying medicinal cannabis. On his first try, his pain relief was immediate. Janice was shocked. Without delay, she chose to quit her job of 15 years and pursue a new career in the field of medical cannabis.

Janice completed training and attained certification from Holistic Cannabis Academy and Green Flower. Janice now practices as a Holistic Cannabis Practitioner full time, where she advises clients on access, proper cannabinoid ratios, dosing, best consumption methods and cooking with cannabis through her company Jannabis Wellness. Her two biggest goals through her practice are to:

  1. Decrease the stigma that surround the marijuana plant

  2. Educate Healthcare practitioners about medicinal cannabis use.

Janice uniquely combines her Registered Nutritionist Dietitian role and when consulting with clients she gathers a complete history using both areas of expertise to design a personalized and strategic care plan. She provides guidance on both diet and cannabis use. Like any good dietitian, she speaks to her clients about the mind-gut connection, talks them through proper breathing techniques, and takes a holistic approach to providing them care.

Case Report to Clinical Trial

Although these results from the story at the beginning of the blog are not form a clinical trial, this example goes to show how well CBD can work for some brain injury survivors. A case report can generate hypotheses from unique clinical encounters like the success story mentioned. A single clinical patient encounter from a professional can help them to provide guidance among smaller populations, thus gathering enough data for a case series. From these case series, formal hypotheses can be generated, and clinical trials can be born.

Since 2003, the US government holds a patent on marijuana and its use for treating certain medical conditions. However, this same government considered marijuana to be a Schedule I classified drug, meaning that it is defined as a drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”. Seems contradictory, don’t you think? Why would a government wish to withhold federal decriminalization while also processing such an important patent? The most likely answer is profit. However, with over 60% of Americans in desire of some form of marijuana legalization, pressure will be put on initiating change.

The current restrictions and inaccessibility to cannabis inhibits the research world to progress with the commencement of the necessary number of clinical trials.

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