CBD (cannabidiol) has hit the headlines all over the world for its range of therapeutic applications. From treating anxiety to reducing the nausea associated with cancer, CBD has become incredibly popular.
Recent research suggests that CBD can play a role in ‘neuroprotection’, thus reducing the damage to the nervous system by serious degenerative diseases.
Keen to learn more? Read on to find out exactly what all these words mean, and how CBD is showing promise to prevent neurodegeneration in clinical trials.
What is ‘neuroprotection’?
The nervous system - which enables you to do things like walk, eat, breathe and sleep – is made up of specialised cells called ‘neurons’. These neurons make up structures in the body, and can perform functions. For example, the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system controls the fight-or-flight response. Put simply, if you make any kind of movement, your nervous system will be involved.
Neuroprotection can prevent or reduce the damage done to the neurons by certain diseases. By slowing down the destruction of neurons, quality of life is preserved. Neuroprotection can preserve the ability to walk comfortably, or speak without difficulty.
Why do we need to study neuroprotection?
Protecting the nervous system from injury is a novel area of research for scientists, and could be the key to managing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, to name a few. Researchers still don’t know how these diseases are caused, but are beginning to understand who is more likely to get them.
The earlier we can diagnose a patient with a neurological disease or spot brain damage, the faster we can treat them.
CBD could be a pharmaceutical involved in great scientific leaps in the future.
What is a neurodegenerative disease?
Damage to the nervous system can come through a neurodegenerative disease. Repeated loss of your nerve cells means that abilities such as speaking or learning efficiently will be greatly affected.
A well-known neurodegenerative disease is Parkinson’s disease. Over many years, the body begins to destroy nervous structures in the brain. This causes classic symptoms such as a resting tremor, and slow movement. No one is sure of the cause of Parkinson’s disease, although it affects over 10 million people worldwide.
Parkinson’s can be a devastating condition, leading to stiffness of the joints and difficulty swallowing. Specifically, the cells that produce dopamine are affected. This leads to long term rigidity and difficulty mobilising.
How does Alzheimer’s Dementia damage the brain?
Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable brain disease that affects memory and thinking skills. The brain is destroyed over time by plaques that clump in the tissue. The cause is unknown, although you may be more likely to have it if someone in your family was diagnosed with dementia.
In Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus is usually the first affected area. This structure deals with memory and learning. Without it, both the short- and long-term memory suffer, drastically worsening recall and critically thinking ability.
Eventually, more and more of the brain is replaced with useless ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’, affecting everything from ability to walk to speech. Over 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, meaning that the search for effective treatment is imperative.
What does a stroke do to the brain?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply of the brain is cut off. Causes include a blood clot that blocks vessels, or an artery bursting inside the skull. As you can imagine, the damage to the brain is catastrophic, and leads to widespread cell death. Depending on the location of blockage, a different section of the brain may be damaged.
A stroke can damage the brain to cause difficulty speaking, understanding and learning. Certain strokes can affect the ability to walk, feel or mobilise. In short, a stroke could do anything from paralysing an individual to causing their death.
The specific mechanism by which a stroke can damage the neurons is known as ‘oxidative stress’. Oxidative stress damages the brain cells and can affect proteins that make up brain structures. These deleterious changes are also seen in Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
There are many types of neurodegenerative disease, which attack the nervous system in different ways. By taking some common examples such as Parkinson’s, we can see that the nervous system may require some extra help to defend itself. That’s why researchers are excited to experiment with CBD as a neuroprotective agent.
Can CBD be involved in neuroprotection
We understand what diseases can do to our neurons. We know the devastation a neurodegenerative condition can bring to a patient’s life.
Now we must ask: can we protect the brain?
A Korean study suggested that CBD can protect the neurons from oxidative stress. In a stroke, oxidative stress can occur to destroy nerve cells. The scientists found that CBD molecules prevent cell death.
By testing areas of the hippocampus (which deals with long-term memory) it was found that CBD can have a neuroprotective effect on some structures. While rudimentary, this research opens up exciting avenues for further testing.
A 2008 study tested the effect of CBD on animals, with a stroke simulated in the brain. The team of researchers starved the brain of oxygen and gave half of the subjects a dose of CBD. The results: animals given CBD lost fewer neurons.
The CBD saved more cells from death, and improved breathing and heart function compared to animals not dosed with CBD.
This is all recent research!
The study of cannabidiol is relatively new, and most trials have been conducted on animals. Currently, CBD is not used as a neuroprotective agent in the clinical environment.
This research is in its early stages, but appears incredibly promising. The CBD administered in these trials reduced brain damage and improved brain function. It remains to be seen whether these benefits can one day be translated to human patients.
For now, keep an eye on the treatment of dementia, Parkinson’s and many other neurodegenerative diseases. Every day scientists make great strides in bettering patient’s lives. The future of treatment for these devastating diseases may be closer than we think.