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CBD for Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is just what it sounds like: neurological damage caused by an impact injury to the head. Those living with TBI often have a significantly reduced quality of life. The results can even be deadly.

As research into the benefits of CBD expand, so does the speculation into just how many conditions may be improved with its use. The evidence so far shows that CBD has neuroprotective effects. Could these effects include reducing the impact of damages caused by TBI?

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what the research says about using CBD for traumatic brain injury.

About CBD for Traumatic Brain Injury


CBD may reduce the impact of TBI on brain function. It may also improve the quality of life for TBI patients.

Research Shows

Influencing the function of the endocannabinoid system can have a substantial impact on the changes that happen in the brain after a TBI.

Just the Facts

CBD has a protective effect on the cells of the brain following a traumatic injury. While many aspects of this process are unclear, it appears that CBD decreases inflammation and promotes blood flow in the brain, which reduces further damage after an injury.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

Any blow to the head can be worrisome, and for good reason. As with any bodily injury, a cascade of reactions occurs in the brain after a substantial blow. These include inflammation, swelling, and immune activation.

While this is a typical and helpful series of reactions for an injury such as a broken bone, that’s not the case within the brain. After a head injury, this series of events can actually cause additional neurological damage. Without room to expand, swelling within the brain can restrict blood flow to critical areas of the organ. The death of brain cells can follow.

Common TBI patients are military veterans, football players and car crash survivors. The effects of TBI can be long-lasting and debilitating, and may involve physical, emotional, social, and behavioral symptoms.

These effects are often life changing. Depression and anxiety are common results, as well as cognitive decline and reduced motor function. Some TBI patients with severe symptoms experience seizures.

Currently, conventional medicine is greatly lacking in effective methods to treat or reverse the symptoms of TBI. Many protocols have been attempted, but none have proven to supply reliable, long term results.

Can CBD Help with Traumatic Brain Injury?

The body of research available on TBI is increasing regularly. Many studies point to the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as an important player in the development of psychological, physical, and behavioral effects following TBI.

My awareness and cognition have improved beyond belief! I am living on my own for the first time in three decades.
— Debbie Wilson
Specifically, cannabidiol use changes the balance of function within the ECS. And research shows that in the case of TBI, that balance shifts towards the better.

More research is needed to establish specific protocols that can be accessed and prescribed by mainstream medicine. In the meantime, though, individual cases are shining an upbeat light on the prognosis of the condition.

Debbie Wilson, PhD, from La Pine, Oregon experienced her first TBI after a truck backed over her in 1989. The resulting loss of motor control caused her to fall seven years later and suffer a second TBI.

For 21 years, Wilson lived with a debilitating seizure condition. During this time, she cycled through 19 medications, none of which provided her relief.

“My epilepsy used to regularly shut my heart and lungs down, and I spent way too much of my life in ICU,” she recalls.

Wilson’s life turned around after she ran out of conventional options and was finally approved for alternative treatments in 2010.

“I did my first cannabis trial in MI and was able to get a 1000% reduction in grand mal seizures prior to moving [to Oregon], thanks to THC. I went on to find that CBD treats my hard-to-control Bell’s Palsy epilepsy,” she says.

Wilson lives with certainty that she owes her current quality of life to cannabinoids, including CBD.

“I was 57 years old and never tried cannabis prior to that point. Today, there is no doubt it was the best thing I could have ever done for my neurological health. My awareness and cognition have improved beyond belief! I am living on my own for the first time in three decades.”

Wilson’s results with CBD are quite dramatic, but others living with TBI have found more subtle relief.

Toni Burkholder began investigating cannabis oil to help her adult son get some more sleep after the accident that caused his TBI.

“We have had some success with cannabis containing THC,” she says. “We have seen an improvement in his ability to sleep at night. Prior to using THC he would average 3 hours of sleep each night. He is now up to almost 6 hours per night.”

Burkholder mentions that in addition to poor sleep, her son also suffers from anxiety related to the TBI. CBD-only products produced underwhelming results, but she feels the outcome was related to the available dosage.

“I have since found a product from Wisconsin that [my son] Mark’s doctor recommended that is 2500 mg.  I have only given it to him a couple of times. It does appear to help with his anxiety…I would prefer to go that route if it works.”

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Research Highlights

The research supporting the use of CBD for TBI is in its early stages. Expand the items below to learn more about these recent studies.

2019: Learning and memory After TBI

This experimental mouse model study carefully monitored the changes that occurred in the brain after a TBI. The results showed that levels of endocannabinoids increase dramatically after the injury, suggesting that this change may play a role in the altered function of the brain.

Researchers found that mice given AM-281, a synthetic compound similar to CBD, improved their ability to perform learning and memory tasks.

The results of the study indirectly suggest that CBD may be effective as a treatment for the impaired learning and memory abilities often seen in those with TBI.

2018: Role of the ECS in TBI
This 2018 mouse study looked at the role the ECS may play in the advancement of TBI symptoms soon after injury. While the researchers did not use CBD directly, they accessed chemicals that act similarly to CBD on the ECS.

Targeting the CB2 receptors within the ECS caused several interesting results. First, macrophages – immune cells which clean up dead and damaged particles – were prompted to become anti-inflammatory rather than pro-inflammatory.

Next, brain edema was reduced. Edema is the swelling that follows injury. Within the brain, edema can restrict blood flow, promoting additional damage to the brain. Reductions in initial edema were shown to enhance cognitive and motor outcomes.

These promising results show that additional studies are needed to determine possible protocols.

2018: Cannabis and Neurology

In this 2018 review paper, the researcher acknowledges the many issues facing the field of neurology in accessing safe and effective treatments for neurological disorders. Primarily, neurological problems are highly complex, symptoms differ from case to case, and traditional pharmaceuticals do not have replicable effects.

The paper outlines possible future treatments emphasizing an integrative approach of lifestyle, nutrition, and cannabis extract supplementation including CBD.

Concerns about Using CBD for Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI is a complex condition. Causes, progressions, and symptoms can vary wildly from person to person, so a standard protocol may not exist. Those in need of additional support for the downstream effects of TBI should work closely with their medical provider and professional CBD practitioner.

As with other conditions showing improvement with CBD, adverse side effects have not yet been seen. However, some side effects have been reported with the use of synthetic CBD substitutes.


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The Author

Sara Kennedy

Sara Kennedy

Sara Kennedy lives in Alaska. She spends the dark winters reading and fat biking and the summers racing bikes and camping with her family.

She is a nutritional therapy consultant and certified personal trainer. You can also find her writing at Echo magazine.