Malaria is a disease that is relatively uncommon in technologically advanced nations, with only 1,500 cases appearing in the United States in 2013. It is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. Malaria causes symptoms that include high fever, vomiting, chills, enlarged spleen, flu-like illness, and even loss of consciousness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this infectious disease attacks nearly 200 million people globally each year, resulting in about half a million deaths. 90 percent of these deaths occur in African children under the age of five.
Death from malaria typically is caused by one of five progressions of the disease:
- Cerebral Malaria: When swelling of the brain occurs due to small blood vessels to the brain being blocked by red blood cells. This, in turn, may cause coma or brain damage.
- Suffocation/Breathing Issues: Fluid may accumulate in the lungs, making it difficult or impossible to breathe (very similar to pneumonia).
- Organ Failure: The disease can cause a patient’s kidneys or liver to fail and their spleen to rupture.
- Anemia: Malaria can cause severe anemia (a decrease in the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin) due to damage to red blood cells.
- Low Blood Sugar: Both malaria and a popular drug to treat it, quinine, can result in extremely low blood sugar, which in turn can lead to coma or death.
Survivors often suffer neurological deficits, such as brain and spinal cord damage, as a result of the disease.
CBD Study Reveals Brain Repair
A recent study reveals that cannabis, or one of its constituent cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD), may be effective in preserving and even “rescuing” essential brain function in those who have suffered cerebral malaria.
Research published in the journal Neuroscience in March of 2015 reveals that the neuroprotective properties of CBD helped prevent memory deficits and anxiety in laboratory mice.
The study revealed that mice not treated with CBD following infection with malaria suffered from memory dysfunction, an increase in anxiety, and inflammation in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex regions of the brain. Mice treated with CBD exhibited no memory deficits, an increase in a brain chemical that protects neurons, and a decrease of inflammation in the brain.
Also revealed was the fact that the mice infected with malaria that were treated with CBD lived longer and regained full cognitive functionality — unlike the mice deprived of CBD. However, the study did note that motor function was not recovered in either the group fed CBD or the control group that received none.
Concluded the study:
“Our results indicate that CBD exhibits neuroprotective effects…and might be useful as an adjunctive therapy to prevent neurological symptoms following this disease.”
More Research Needed
While cannabis is commonly considered an effective treatment for psychological conditions like depression and anxiety and diseases like cancer and muscular dystrophy, it is only recently that researchers have begun to consider the anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids other than THC.
More research continues to emerge to identify the ability of a variety of compounds in medical cannabis, including CBD and THC, to combat a wide range of diseases, conditions, and ailments. However, until the Schedule I status of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act of the United States government is changed, human trials and robust clinical research will continue to pour in from countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, and even Mexico.