“Concussion” Is Teachable Moment For Cannabis And Brain Trauma

Will Smith - Concussion

Will Smith – Concussion

Cannabis reduces traumatic brain injury!

Far too few know this benefit of medical marijuana use and treatment. The general public, the NFL, and coaches across the country may soon get that opportunity.

The SONY movie, “Concussion,” examining brain trauma in the NFL, presents a unique opportunity to educate about benefits of cannabis for traumatic brain injury. Will Smith plays a forensic pathologist who discovers the chilling extent of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL players, setting them up for depression, dementia, and early death.

The Christmas 2015 movie has already elevated the issue of traumatic brain injury to the public and NFL players. Although the movie does not address how cannabis can minimize brain injuries, the time will be ripe for such education.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon may be the best educator on this timely issue.

This a retired Harvard psychiatrist and pioneering authority on marijuana’s medical benefits has already specifically addressed the issue of CTE in the NFL, when he petitioned  the organization to fund research into cannabis and brain trauma. Dr. Grinspoon has been educating on the positive health effects of cannabis for decades, since it helped his son with cancer in the 1970s. He has written a dozen books, several on medical marijuana, calling it The Forbidden Medicine.”  He has editorialized in The New York Times that marijuana is a “wonder drug“, where he lists the truly wondrous medical benefits provided, including relief from neuropathic pain. He writes:

If marijuana were a new discovery rather than a well-known substance carrying cultural and political baggage, it would be hailed as a wonder drug.

 

Cannabis and Brain Injury

Head injury and traumatic brain accident. Fotolia

Head injury and traumatic brain accident. Fotolia

Much of the research showing the protective effects of cannabinoids against traumatic brain injury comes from Israel. Studies reported in 2013 in this small, high-tech country showed that THC and similar cannabinoids can reduce injury both before and after trauma.

Irony alert: This research showing the brain-protective benefits was done at the Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases. Sheldon Adelson, that is, the American right-wing gambling billionaire and major benefactor to Israel. Ironically, he put several million dollars into a 2014 Florida campaign to PREVENT medical marijuana in that state. With the help of his money, Floridians were denied the benefits of medical cannabis, such as reducing brain injury and dementia, discovered in his own center! WTF?

Other Israeli researchers concentrated on 2-AG, the human body’s own cannabinoid molecule, along with anandamide, that fits lock-and-key into the same receptors activated by plant cannabinoid in marijuana. They discuss how cannabinoids work on the biological and molecular levels to reduce traumatic brain injury (TBI) and with it minimize the disabling disease CTE. The brain trauma of a concussive hit does not all take place and finish with the hit. In the hours following, inflammation is a destructive factor, caused in part by cytokines, cell messengers, such as the dangerous TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-1beta. 2-AG also reduces blood brain barrier (BBB) permeability, another neuroprotective effect.

More ways cannabinoids reduce traumatic brain injury.

Head trauma, such as a massive acceleration/deceleration of a head during helmet to pad collision, common in NFL football, begins a lengthy neurological response process, often inflicting more harm to the brain. This response is primarily inflammatory. For a specific site, even the whole brain, the culprit is “excitotoxicity, the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate and similar substances.” This neurotransmitter overload degrades and kills brain cells, and they die a messy death, creating further toxicity in the form of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), nasty molecules that damage cell structures and your DNA.

So as soon as a football player takes a concussive hit, from then for hours, and longer,  the resulting excitotoxicity attacks neurons and other cells:

  • Dangerous cytokines deliver massive numbers of inflammatory molecules.
  • Glutamate increases wildly, along with other neurotransmitters.
  • NMDA receptors are activated by excess glutamate which causes a flow of calcium and sodium into cells, generating free radicals.
  • Dying mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse release toxic Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), bully molecules swinging dangerous free radical electrons, and smashing up nerve cells.
  • Vasoconstriction reduces blood flow to the brain.

Amazingly, cannabinoids in cannabis exert a healing calm to excitotoxicity and help reduce neurological damage in all areas.

  • Antioxidants action: Even without activating the  endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids themselves are potent anti-oxidants, the perfect remedy to the oxidative stress, as they neutralize these rowdy ROS molecules.
  • Retrograde signalling, found only in the endocannabinoid system, calms neuronal firings with “backwards” retrograde signaling across synapses to reduce nerve cell activity.
  • Apoptosis, cell death is reduced, lowering the resulting volume of inflammatory molecules.
  • Cannabinoids promote vasodilation, restoring healing blood flow to the brain by counteracting the endothelin (ET-1)-induced vasoconstriction that aggravates brain damage.
  • Anti-inflammatory actions are all neuroprotective. And they result in reduced brain swelling.

So, obviously, the investigation of cannabis in reducing traumatic brain injury and CTE in football players and sports participants who suffer concussions presents a life-saving opportunity. Their are ample reasons for undertaking this research and hopefully the NFL will take up Dr. Grinspoon’s challenge to fund it.

First, do no harm. The NFL’s knee jerk mandate of prohibiting cannabis use by players may be doing huge harms by denying them the medicine that can help prevent, treat, and minimize injuries from the brain trauma they suffer as players.

Beyond that, what can we do as fans of football, and for some, as parent of young players, to help get the NFL to sponsor this vitally needed research into concussion and cannabis?.

Copyright © 2015  Don Fitch

 

Your Brain on CBD: Neurogenesis and Brain Growth!

Neurogenesis in hippocampus

© Sebastian Kaulitzki – Fotolia.com

We rightfully mourn the loss of brain cells, neurons, as we age. As they die we lose memories and capabilities – even our personalities. We are only as robust as our brains, composed mainly of neurons. Formerly, it was thought the as adults we already have all the brain cells we will ever have, and the path was only downward as we lose neurons to stress, alcohol and aging. Happily, this bleak picture was changed when neuroscientists discovered that, under certain conditions, even adult brains can grow new neurons, neurogenesis. New neurons refresh and rejuvenate, and lift mood.

The principal area where neurogenesis can take place is in the hippocampus, a dual area deep within the brain. Although small, hippocampal health appears important to memory and brain organization. It can be damaged. Excess alcohol and many drugs can cause it to lose neurons and shrink, resulting in fading memories and depression.

On the other hand, several conditions seem to spur brain growth. Physical exercise is one: rigorous physical activity spurs the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus, most probably providing a rejuvenating effect and boosting memory. Physical activity is crucial in keeping old brains young. Your hippocampal health is one of dozens of great reasons to exercise every day of your life.

Certain anti-depressant drugs are also associated with neurogenesis.  Indeed, it is now thought that the depression relieving effects of SRIs- serotonin reuptake inhibitors – might have more to do with neurogenesis than increasing serotonin levels. Some now believe that the depression lifting effects of these drugs are due to new, young brain cells refreshing the hippocampus.

In 1995 it was reported that cannabinoids, too, can spur neurogenesis. Cannabinoids are molecules from three different sources: 1) Our body produces endocannabinoids that activate our endocannabinoid regulatory systems, pricipally anandamide and 2-AG. 2) Phytocannabinoids come from the plant Cannabis Sativa, AKA marijuana. THC is the best known and produces the psychoactive and some of the medicinal effects of cannabis.  3) Cannabinoids can also be synthesized in the lab.

A Canadian research group reported that Cannabinoids promote embryonic and adult hippocampus neurogenesis and produce anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects. This research used a synthetic cannabinoid to activate the same CB1 receptors activated by the plant cannabinoid THC. They attributed the anxiety-relieving and depression-lifting effects of long-term treatment were “likely via promotion of hippocampal neurogenesis.”

Another new study has shown that the cannabinoid CBD from cannabis also promotes neurogenesis. Researchers from the Complutense University in Madrid, along with Brazilian researchers found that CBD relieved stress in mice and it did so by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus. They concluded, the “anxiolytic effect of cannabidiol on chronically stressed mice depends on hippocampal neurogenesis: involvement of the endocannabinoid system.”

CBD, Cannabidiol is an exceedingly interesting molecule, brimming with beneficial health effects. It is one of over 60 cannabinoids produced by the hemp plant Cannabis Sativa. Unlike the better known THC, CBD is not psychoactive, although it may modulate the effects of THC. Both cannabinoid molecules interact, in different ways, with our cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. The medical potential of CBD has been inadequately studied because of the idiotic illegality of Cannabis Sativa. Even so, the known health effects are impressive: Like THC, CBD is an antioxidant with neuroprotective properties. Like THC, CBD is anti-inflammatory. It relieves pain.  CBD appears to have anti-tumor properties.

So on top of all these medical benefits, CBD may well contribute to neurogenesis, brain rejuvenation and growth! What’s not to like? Well, the DEA does not like these medical benefits and does not allow research on them because it likes the draconian Schedule I – no medical benefits – of cannabis to extend the lucrative war on drugs. This bureaucratic turf battle keeps the DEA in the dough but denies Americans the health-giving, even life-saving benefits of medical cannabis, even non-psychoactive CBD-dominant strains.

Americans should demand access to natural plant molecules such as CBD, along with THC, THCV and dozens of other medical cannabinoids. CBD and these other cannabinoids can help prevent many maladies, can treat dozens of diseases and can provide palliative comfort to the rest.  Along with refreshing and growing our very brains with neurogenesis. If Americans gain their medical freedom with a down-grading of cannabis from ridiculous Schedule I tyranny, the planet’s other six billion people would also gain greater access. Study of this remarkable  plant cannabinoid would blossom world-wide as anti-cannabis doctrine crumbles in the face of huge medical and health benefits.

Copyright © 2013 Don Fitch

Your brain on exercise: rewarded with dopamine by cannabinoid receptors.

Lack of enough physical activity is a huge problem in the obesity-plagued modern world. With much of physical activity removed from work and daily life, to be fit and not obese, we have to exercise for extended periods of time, in activities like jogging, fast walking, bike riding and other aerobic exercise. Our willingness to exercise in this way is really a cornerstone of our health, and our society’s health. Probably more than anything single factor, our health care system would benefit from people getting more exercise. New research now reports the crucial role of cannabinoid receptors and our endocannabinoid regulatory system in our motivation to keep moving.

Research out of France, reported in Biological Psychiatry shows how small protein cannabinoid receptors operating in the walls of nerve cells in the  brain reward exercise. This unlocks a key to voluntary exercise, and perhaps ways to promote it.  Also reported in ScienceDaily, the research reported that the endocannabinoid system, especially CB1 receptors in certain parts of the brain, reward our bodies and minds with pleasurable sensations. This research was with mice, not humans, but the physiology and responses are very similar. Lack (or blockage) of these receptors caused a sharp drop in the amount of exercise control mice were willing to do.

For us to continue to exercise, rather than stopping, depends a lot on how we feel. If tired and uncomfortable we might well stop; if exhilarated and “in the zone,” we continue. How we feel during exercise, it turns out, depends much on how much of the feel-good substance, dopamine, our brains produce and receive.  Our dopamine levels, this research shows, are controlled in part by our endocannabinoid systems and CB1 receptors in certain parts of the brain. CB1 receptors are activated by our natural endocannabinoids such as anandamide. They also fit like lock and key and are activated by plant cannabinoids, especially THC, from cannabis.

Dopamine is an organic chemical produced in several areas of the brain. Many brain functions involve dopamine, especially learning, voluntary movement, reward and motivation. We feel higher dopamine levels as enjoyment and are rewarded by the experience, making us want to continue or repeat. Drugs like cocaine increase and prolong dopamine levels. The Bordeaux, France researchers studied dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain’s ventral tegmental area (VTA) known to play an important role in motivation. By working with mice with CB1 receptors present or absent or blocked, they found marked difference in how much running wheel time the rodents would spend.

The researchers had previously found “that the endogenous stimulation of cannabinoid type-1 (CB1) receptors is a prerequisite for voluntary running in mice,” but did not understand the mechanisms. In experiments involving “in vivo electrophysiology, the consequences of wheel running on VTA dopamine (DA) neuronal activity” on mice with combinations of CB1 blockage and GABA blockage. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces levels of dopamine produced by other neurons. Cannabinoid receptor activation in GABA neurons inhibits this inhibitory effect on dopamine. This “inhibition of inhibition” results in an increased level of dopamine produced in this motivation area of the brain.

Exercise promotes endocannabinoid activation of CB1 receptors and this activation encourages continued exercise. If we exercise enough to allow them, our bodies reward us for the physical activities that are so good for us.

Not mentioned in this research, the “runner’s high” is likely a function of endocannabinoids, along with the endorphins. For earlier evidence of the runner’s high association with the endocannabinoid system check Runner’s high – your body rewarding exercise.

Runner’s high – your body rewarding exercise.

Runners have long noted that euphoria and sense of well-being are often felt during and after a hard run. Indeed, this mental and physical reward is the reason many runners exercise. The ability to run quickly and for long distance is obviously an important evolutionary advantage, as in the capability  to catch food or not.

The “high” experienced by runners and others exercising vigorously has long been explained by endorphins and the opioid receptor system. But since this explanation came the discovery of the endocannabinoid (eCB) regulatory system consisting of receptors on nerve and other cells and natural cannabinoids (CBs) that activate these receptors,. For nearly a decade many have thought that this system better explains the mental lift and euphoria people often feel during and after robust exercise.

Now a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, “Wired to run: exercise-induced endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the ‘runner’s high“,  expands on the evolutionary importance of this pleasurable signalling.  The term “cursorial” means well adapted to running. Human being and dogs are cursorial, ferrets, not so much. In this research, intense exercise dramatically raised the levels of endocannabinoids in humans and dogs, in ferrets, not so much. The researchers concluded, “Thus, a neurobiological reward for endurance exercise may explain why humans and other cursorial mammals habitually engage in aerobic exercise despite the higher associated energy costs and injury risks, and why non-cursorial mammals avoid such locomotor behaviors.

This “neurobiological reward” occurs when your body’s own eCB, anandamide, activates cannabinoid receptors CB1 on nerve cells in brain and body.  Anandamide (AEA) and similar 2-AG, activate these nerve receptors in much the same way as does the plant cannabinoid THC, from the plant cannabis sativa. Activation of CB1 receptors by any of these cannabinoids provides a euphoric effect. As the release of anandamide is stimulated by intensive exercise such as running, your body provides a rewarding euphoria for a hard run or workout.

Regrettably perhaps, achieving this runner’s high requires fairly robust levels of exercise. Seemingly we must “pay for” the experience with quite hard physical labor; walking did not increase CB levels in this study. But don’t let that discourage you from walking; it offers dozens of other rewards, even health itself.

Bliss out (and pump up) your brain with exercise.

Just as doing push-ups pumps up the size of your triceps, so does aerobic exercise appear to increase the volume of your brain! American researchers reporting in the British Journal of Sports Medicine show that physical exercise, especially aerobic activity, improves the functioning and structure of the brains of older people.

Improvements in brain size, with increased volumes of grey and white matter, and better brain function were found in both those with and without dementia. The so called functions of “executive control,” that help us carry on our lives planning, remembering and changing tasks are those first attacked by dementia. But study co-author Art Kramer of the University of Illinois notes that these functions are those most helped with exercise. Dementia is not only forestalled, but in some ways actually reversed with 6 months of aerobic activity. Brains benefiting from the exercise exertions of their owners maintained plasticity, essentially the capabilities to continue growing, developing and learning.

Although huge rewards accrue to both brain and body from simply walking, these researchers point out the increased benefit from more rigorous aerobic activities, such as jogging, that cause increases in heart rate and rate of breathing. So by all means walk your 10,000 steps a day, at least 5 miles, but also pick up the pace for some of those steps.  Jogging one of those five miles and moving your heart rate up into your age-appropriate training zone will yield great benefits, toning your body and growing your brain. Professor Kramer summarized, “We can safely argue that an active lifestyle with moderate amounts of aerobic activity will likely improve cognitive and brain function, and reverse the neural decay frequently observed in older adults.”

If you bliss out your brain with exercise, there is now good evidence your brain will return the favor. “Runner’s high,” is a flowing, blissful, pain-free experience associated with aerobic exercise. Formerly, the enjoyable mental and physical state was associated solely with endorphins, the body’s natural opiates. With the discovery of the endocannabinoid receptor system and endogenous cannabinoids produced by our own bodies, such as anandamide and 2-AG, this explanation is taking a new turn. After you begin exercising, your level of natural bliss cannabinoid anandamide elevates, and more of these bliss molecules float in your bloodstream, ready to jump the blood-brain barrier and activate CB1receptors on your nerve cells. The result is pain reduction and mood elevation.  So, in addition to endorphins, endocannabinoids such as anandamide reward you for your exercise efforts.

Better adaptive functioning and increased brain volumes are, at least in part, due to neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells. Both exercise and cannabinoids promote neurogenesis. So, to gain huge health rewards, second-by-second, year-by-year, for your entire life, bliss out your brain with exercise. Walk every day, run some too, lift some weights, and every cell in your brain and body benefits.