Even with the advancement of technology and extreme safety measures taken in sports, motor vehicles, and construction, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are still on the rise. Many TBI’s result in mild to severe concussions. According to the CDC, a concussion is “a type of traumatic brain injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.” Concussions are usually not life-threatening, but they can be followed by a lot of complications.
Post Concussion Syndrome
Post Concussion Syndrome is a very real, very complex condition that manifests itself in a variety of ways following a head injury. The severity of the initial injury seems to have very little to do with why some concussion victims develop post-concussion syndrome and others don’t. Researchers believe that there are some recurring factors that may indicate why: things like the history of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, significant life stressors, a poor social support system and lack of coping skills are believed to play a role in those who develop the condition. Age is also believed to be a risk factor: children and elderly who experience head trauma are more likely to develop post-concussion syndrome than any other age group.
There is no medication or treatment therapy that has been proven to treat post-concussion syndrome. Instead, your doctor will likely treat your specific symptoms. People experiencing post-concussion syndrome usually report symptoms such as:
Mild to severe Headaches
Loss of focus/concentration
Loss of memory
Ringing in the ears
Sensitivity to light and noise
Cannabis for Post Concussion Syndrome
Is there something that can help with all these symptoms together? Science might be pointing to cannabis as the answer. You may be aware that cannabis works with a human system called the Endocannabinoid System, which is known to regulate lots of vital functions like pain sensation, inflammation, and healthy cell regeneration. All this is beneficial when treating post-concussion syndrome, but did you know that cannabis can also help with cognitive function? Contrary to popular belief, cannabis doesn’t kill your brain cells, it actually promotes their growth. It may seem a little paradoxical, but marijuana has been shown to promote neurogenesis within the brains of both healthy adults and adults suffering from cognitive decline (due to age, illness, or – that’s right – even injury). A 2005 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation stated that “cannabinoids appear to be the only illicit drug whose capacity to produce increased hippocampal newborn neurons is positively correlated with its anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects.”
What To Look For
So the big question: are there certain strains of cannabis that are more beneficial for treating post-concussion syndrome? There just might be. When looking for the right cannabis strain to treat post-concussion syndrome, it’s important to look into the specific compounds and properties of each strain, and understand what they each do. As a rule of thumb, look for:
Cannabis that has as a healthy level of THC: the THC molecule is naturally structured to perfectly bind with cell receptors in the brain that are responsible for memory (the hippocampus), thought process (the frontal cortex), and movement (the cerebellum). Small doses of THC have been used successfully to treat symptoms of many brain-related disorders such as ADHD (by calming hyperactivity and enhancing focus), dementia (by promoting neurogenesis and increasing memory and thought processing power), and PTSD (by calming anxiety). It’s important to note that THC should only be taken in small doses if treating a concussion that is associated with any mood disorders or mood changes, as high doses of this compound have been known to exacerbate those symptoms.
Cannabis that has equal (or higher) CBD content: many people overlook the importance of CBD mostly because this molecule doesn’t really have any recognizable physical effects, meaning, it doesn’t get you high. In fact, it’s actually known to somewhat metabolize the psychotropic effects of THC, making many recreational users run the other direction. But before you judge, here are some facts: CBD has the ability to inhibit the destruction of natural, healthy cannabinoids produced by your own body (endocannabinoids). This makes it easier for your endocannabinoid system to function properly and makes you healthier all around, especially in healing processes like that of a concussion. CBD has similar properties to many anticonvulsants, which are used as mood stabilizers for mood disorders like bipolar. This aids with the emotional aspects that can surface with post-concussion disorder. This molecule has even been found to cure tinnitus – ringing in the ears from head injuries or trauma. On top of all that, the United States government also has a patent on CBD as a powerful neuroprotectant, which is definitely something to seek out when treating post-concussion syndrome.
Cannabis that is rich in terpenes: terpenes are what give most plants and fruits their aroma, flavor, and color. Most cannabis strains will have a distinct flavor profile or specific aroma – all thanks to terpenes. But they are more than just smell and taste: terpenes are highly therapeutic and scientists have found their properties to work wonderfully with cannabinoids within the human body.
Cannabis that works for you: finding the right strain of cannabis might take a few tries. Everyone responds uniquely to different strains, and while you can make an educated guess on how it will make you feel based on reports, individual studies, and the lineage of the strain, it is totally possible to experience a different reaction than you had anticipated. Keep an open mind, and remember to start small, especially if you are new to cannabis.
Strains To Try For Post Concussion Syndrome
With the high amount of concussions every season, it won’t surprise you that more and more NFL players are lobbying for legalized medical marijuana use. But many people shy away from using marijuana as a treatment because they don’t have the desire or they cannot afford to get high. This is especially true for parents of young children who suffer concussions by way of sports. These days, there are a lot of options for medicating with cannabinoids without having to pop a joint into your mouth. High CBD, low THC oils or tinctures are available at almost every dispensary, and they are a great option for those who want a convenient and discreet way to medicate without getting stoned. It’s important to note that both CBD and THC work great by themselves, but researchers believe that whole plant oils create a synergistic effect when introduced into the human system together, meaning: they work better together. If green grass is up your alley, you’ll be happy to know that many strains have been specifically hybridized to pack healthy ratios of both CBD and THC (and terpenes to boot!), giving you more power and control overdosing. Here are some top strains for treating post-concussion syndrome, starting with strains that have the highest CBD content:
If you’re really looking to start small, check out ACDC: this hybrid cannabis strain is known to have absolutely no intoxicating effect. Yes, you read that right: you can smoke it and not get high. This is because of it’s impressive 20:1 CBD: THC ratio. This strain is rich with earth tones and pine, and you can thank the terpene pinene for that. The most abundant terpene in the plant kingdom, pinene is known to improve focus and increase memory retention. This strain is also great for pain, nausea, anxiety, and fatigue.
Bred specifically with medical benefits in mind, Remedy is an indica strain that brings relaxation to both mind and body. This strain will have very little or no psychotropic side effect, especially for regular recreational users. What it does have is an average of 14:1 CBD: THC content and a healthy dose of beta-caryophyllene, a terpene that positively enhances focus and mood. This strain will also help with fatigue, depression, and pain.
A sativa dominant strain, Harlequin offers an impressive 5:2 CBD: THC ratio and the terpene myrcene, which is responsible for helping THC and CBD absorb into the endocannabinoid system more efficiently. Users report feeling happy, relaxed, and focused, and enjoy the sweet, earthy musk. This strain is excellent for pain, inflammation, and anxiety.
One of the first sativa strains to become famous for its high CBD count, Sour Tsunami offers at the very minimum a 60% to 40% CBD to THC ratio. Because of its THC content, expect to feel a buzz from this one. Its mildly citrusy flavor profile is from limonene, the terpene that gives all citrus fruits their aroma and taste. This terpene is especially powerful for mood disorders, making this a good strain to try if you’ve been feeling anxious, depressed, or irritable since your concussion.
Pennywise is a 1:1 CBD:THC indica dominant strain that is known for its calming effect on the mind and body. Linalool is the dominant terpene in this strain, which is the same terpene we get in lavender. Don’t let that fool you, however: this strain has more of an earthy, sweet smell than a floral one. Pennywise is good for stress, fatigue, and depression.
Responsible for raising CBD awareness and starting a movement for it in Europe, Cannatonic is easily one of the most popular strains in the world for medicinal use. A hybrid strain, users report feeling a strong, full body relaxation while still staying very mentally alert and aware. This is an earthy strain coming in with a 1:1 CBD: THC ratio, and is used primarily for pain, migraine headaches, anxiety, and mood disorders.
The Bottom Line
Here are some important things to remember when looking to use cannabis as a treatment for post-concussion syndrome:
You should never try to treat post-concussion syndrome on your own. Always talk with your trusted medical provider first, and give yourself the time and space to ask lots of questions and express any concerns.
Educate yourself on your local laws, as they are changing all the time (your doctor should be up-to-date on this. If not, this is a good place to start).
If you purchase any type of pre-formulated oil or tincture, read up on different distributors and make sure you are buying from a reputable company. Marijuana remains federally illegal, and the FDA does not regulate the industry in any way. This means that, in some cases, companies can claim something on their labels that do not match what is inside the bottle. Do your research!
Everyone responds uniquely to marijuana. What works for some may not work for others. If you are new to medicating with cannabis, start small. If you feel you have had too much, don’t worry: it won’t kill you or even hurt you. It’ll likely just make you feel really, really tired or paranoid (or hungry). Sit or lie down, drink some water, and distract yourself (sleep, watch tv, play FarmVille, etc) until it wears off.
Lastly, remember that post-concussion syndrome can last anywhere from a few weeks to over a year, so be patient and allow yourself time to relax and heal. Discuss any major changes in symptoms with your medical provider, and most importantly: listen to your body.
Read more about how cannabis can be used to treat concussions at What is a Concussion and How Does Cannabis Help