For decades we have been led to believe that cannabis damages brain cells, causing brain damage. Recent research now proves that cannabinoids can actually protect brain cells from dying off by impeding the chain of events that causes unnecessary cell death.
Here’s what you need to know about the human brain. Throughout our lives, brain cells die off and new ones are regenerated through the process known as neurogenesis. As we age, we become more and more susceptible to “inappropriate cell death” which is caused by traumatic injury, exposure to environmental toxins known as free radicals, your particular genetic makeup, and inflammation.
There are 5 reasons for brain cell deaths:
- Oxidative Stress The human body burns energy to power our body systems. This can lead to tissue oxidation where there is too much oxygen in our tissues. In turn, this can produce free radicals which cause inflammation, the underlying cause of many diseases; cancer, autoimmune diseases, strokes and heart attacks.
- Excitotoxicity The brain can experience too much activity caused by overstimulation of the neurotransmitter glutamate. A neurotransmitter is a substance released by a nerve fiber that acts as a messenger that transmits impulses from one neuron to another. An excess of glutamate is now known to be present in the brain of those with neurodegenerative diseases and following strokes.
- Inflammatory Change Inflammation is an important immune system function. It indicates that the immune system is coping with an injury or a foreign invader such as a bacteria or a virus. Excessive inflammation can cause cell death. Researchers are discovering the huge role inflammation plays as the underlying cause of almost every disease and disorder. By the time we are 30 years old, the typical brain displays inflammation and that only increases as we age. It leads to a decline in neurogenesis which also interferes with the production of new memories.
- Iron Accumulation Excess iron in the brain appears to lead to an iron build up which causes excitotoxicity which causes brain cell death. This may play a role in the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and ALS.
- Brain Proteins As a result of studying the brains of those with Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers have identified the components that cause the disease. There is a prevalence of the build-up of proteins known as beta-amyloid which form into plaques. The plaques interfere with cell communication at synapses, creating excess inflammation which is generated by the response from the immune system, attacking the affected cells. Another protein, tumor necrosis factor, (TNF) has been discovered to be present in neurodegenerative diseases. It is also involved in causing excitotoxicity and the incidence of high glutamate levels.
Cannabis researchers are recognizing that cannabinoids prevent “inappropriate cell death” which may prevent these diseases from developing in the first place. They identified cannabinoids as neuroprotectants by first studying the effects of THCa, which is found in abundant amounts in raw cannabis. THCa has amazing anti-inflammatory and anti-emetic (seizure reducing) properties. THCa studies demonstrated an increase in mitochondrial mass, a reduction in cell toxicity and reduced inflammation in a cell culture test for Huntington’s Disease. However, THCa is very hard to work with due to its instability that easily changes it into its decarboxylated form known as THC.
They next looked at THC and CBD which are both known to be powerful antioxidants. Cannabinoids reduce the excitotoxicity associated with too much glutamate production and protect brain cells from the damage of too much iron. Even more exciting is the discovery that cannabinoids promote neurogenesis, specifically hippocampal neurogenesis. The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with memory and learning. CBD appears to block the neurotransmitter glutamate after a stroke, thereby reducing the damage to the brain.
The takeaway from the current research is that the neuroprotectant pharmaceuticals drugs currently available protect the brain by only targeting one therapeutic area at a time. Cannabinoids target a wide spectrum of areas all at once. Scientists now understand that there is a long sequence of reactions that cause cell death which leads to neurogenerative diseases. Excitotoxicity leads to oxidative stress which leads to protein build up which forms plaques which causes an inflammatory response. Cannabis is the only agent that can do it all. More research is required!