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Cannabis and Perinatal Brain Injuries

By Dan Putnam April 23, 2017 0 comments

Medical marijuana is expanding across the U.S as researchers continue to uncover the many benefits to be had from cannabis in treating a number of conditions, such as epilepsy, cancer, mitochondrial disease, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, Parkinson’s disease, among many other ailments. Cannabis is sought after as a viable and safe alternative to conventional treatments that often fail to ameliorate suffering of one kind or another. In recent years, researchers have suggested that cannabis could prove to be a useful alternative treatment option for tackling perinatal brain injuries. The dramatic consequences of perinatal brain injury can affect a patient for a lifetime, and currently, there is a lack of effective clinical treatment to counteract this ailment. Cannabis could be the next source of treatment on the horizon, as studies have shown that cannabis may have the potential to limit brain damage and improve the chances of recovery if administered soon after the trauma.

What is Perinatal Brain Injury?

Perinatal brain injury refers to all brain injuries that take place during the perinatal period in infants of all gestational ages. Studies have indicated that perinatal brain injury is typically caused by cerebral ischemia, cerebral hemorrhage, or an ascending intrauterine infection. The areas of the brain that are deeply affected are the parasagittal region of the cerebral cortex and the basal ganglia, as a result of a severe lack of oxygen and a redistribution of cardiac output in favor of the central organs, including the brain, heart and adrenals. As a result of compromised circulatory centralization and acute reduction in oxygen supply, oxidative phosphorylation in the brain stops.

Simply put, brain dysfunction results when there is perinatal brain injury. Normal brain function is disrupted because of the trauma, which triggers a cascade of harmful events, such as oxidative stress, buildup of calcium ions, and impaired mitochondrial function. However, these events also activate a neuroprotective response. Scientific evidence from experimental models support the notion that the body’s endocannabinoids increase in response conditions such brain toxicity and neuroimflammation.

The Endocannabinoid System and Brain Injury Recovery

The endocannabinoid system which controls multiple central and peripheral functions, makes it possible for the cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) to act on the CB1 and CB2 receptors present in the system. Studies maintain that the modulation of the endocannabinoids could yield positive results during the acute and recovery stages after perinatal injury, and in a similar manner, modulating cannabinoid signaling could improve the outcome of a brain trauma. For example, cannabinoid could potentially inhibit the release of proinflammatory cytokines released following a brain trauma, and activation of the CB1 and CB2 receptors may trigger the release of minocycline, which reduces brain swelling and neurological impairment, and diffuses further injuries to the brain’s axons.

Studies: Cannabis and Brain Repair

Researchers have gone ahead and tested the theory that cannabis can provide a protective benefits and reduce brain damage in the process. In an animal model that evaluated the used of cannabidiol to treat brain injury in newborn piglets, the result showed that the cannabinoid modulated excitotoxicity, oxidative stress and inflammation. In another study, the mechanisms involved in cannabidiol (CBD)-induced neuroprotection in hypoxic–ischemic (HI) immature brain were investigated, and CBD was found to cause a reduction in acute and apoptic brain damage.

Additionally, researchers also assert that cannabinoids have shown to be effective at offering neuroprotection in newborn babies that have experienced a brain injury, by controlling the endogenous repairing responses, including neurogenesis and white matter restoration. These studies imply not only that cannabinoids could help in the recovery of perinatal brain injury, but that it could potentially aid in the progression of different manifestations of perinatal brain injury during both the acute and chronic recovery phases.

Animal models investigating the effects of cannabinoids in treating perinatal brain injury is a good start, but as is typical, further research into human replication or clinical trial is needed to validate these early findings. Studies have revealed the significant role that the endocannabinoid system plays in the mechanisms that mediate the effects of cannabinoids, such as CBD in facilitating recovery of perinatal brain injury. Clinical intervention or treatment is very limited despite the prevalence of the condition today. The fact that medical marijuana could possibly play a crucial role as an alternative form of treatment of the condition, it is worth investigating, particular taking into account the different modes of perinatal brain injury.


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