Does Cannabis Help Stroke Victims?

By Gooey Rabinski | September 08, 2015

Each year, nearly 800,000 people in the United States — most of whom are over 65 years old — experience a stroke, which is a rapid loss of brain function resulting from a blockage of blood supply. Globally, it is estimated that 15 million people suffer the condition. Of those who experience strokes, about 140,000 (or 18 percent) die. About 25 percent of stroke victims are under 65 years of age.

Leading causes of strokes are high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, a weak heart, and simply the accumulated wear and tear of age. For those who survive a stroke, symptoms include difficulty speaking or full loss of speech, memory impairments, motor (movement) issues, challenges in writing, and even changes in personality.

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Stroke Types and Symptoms

There are three primary types of strokes, as listed below. Regardless of type, all strokes share the fact that they result from a lack of fresh blood to the brain, which in turn causes injuries that impair proper brain functioning and motor skills.

  • Ischemic: This type of stroke is caused by a blockage, or clot, in a blood vessel leading to the brain. It is the most common type of stroke, accounting for 87 percent of all stroke incidences.
  • Hemorrhagic: As the name implies, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures. Hemorrhagic strokes include aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). The most common cause of a hemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure.
  • Transient Ischemic: Like a ischemic stroke, but resulting from a temporary clot. Often called “mini strokes,” this variety serves as a warning sign that patients need to improve their lifestyle with exercise and better diet to reduce hypertension.

The symptoms that reveal that a stroke is occurring include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, an arm, or a leg, especially on one side.
  • Confusion or trouble understanding other people.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes.
  • Difficulty walking, maintaining balance, or coordinating motor movements.
  • Dizziness.
  • Severe headache for no reason.

The Studies

While few studies have been performed on the effectiveness of cannabis and the cannabinoids therein for stroke victims, the little that is known shows promise for patients.

A study from 1998 that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that CBD and THC may protect the brain from damage inflicted by a stroke. The study, which used rats as specimens, concluded that CBD is “a better candidate” for stroke victims simply because it delivers no psychoactive effect.

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The study revealed that cannabinoids block a neurochemical called glutamate, which leads to the accumulation of toxic oxidizing molecules that kill brain cells. Glutamate is produced when the brain is deprived of oxygen, such as from a blood clot or arterial hemorrhage. The study concluded that CBD is a more effective antioxidant than vitamin A or E, which are known to block the damage of glutamate.

A study published in 2012 revealed that the number of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) in the brain increased after stroke. The study administered a synthetic cannabinoid that acted on CB2 receptors, finding that it reduced overall brain damage and neurological impairments. The synthetic cannabinoid was given 10 minutes after the stroke. Another study found cannabinoids to still be effective when administered up to three hours later.

A study analysis published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism in 2014 examined 144 studies conducted on animals (primates, rats, and mice). The analysis included studies in which animal subjects were given endocannabinoids, cannabinoids from cannabis (phytocannabinoids), and synthetic cannabinoids that target the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, nervous system, and organs related to the immune system.

The analysis concluded that the cannabinoid therapy did not prevent death from stroke in the creatures, but that it reduced the amount of the brain that was injured during stroke. Cognitive functioning was either better maintained or restored in test subjects that were administered cannabinoids versus control groups that were not.

This study is further proof that cannabis and cannabinoids serve as a neuroprotectant and may even stimulate the growth of brain cells in areas of damage or disease. Because the endocannabinoid system is known to regulate inflammation, promote brain cell survival, and improve blood flow, it is believed that the application of cannabinoids from external sources like cannabis can greatly improve problems involving inflammation and any part of the brain or nervous system.

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Treating Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis, a condition in which an artery wall thickens and smooth muscle cells appear that result in a fatty plaque — which eventually blocks arterial blood flow and can lead to a blockage — is one of the leading causes of stroke and heart diseases. Research has shown cannabinoids to be an effective treatment for atherosclerosis, helping prevent a stroke from occurring in the first place.

A study published in the journal Nature in 2005 revealed that THC, even in low quantities, when acting on the CB2 receptors found throughout the immune system, decreased the severity of a stroke.

“Oral administration of THC (1 mg kg-1 per day) resulted in significant inhibition of disease progression. This effective dose is lower than the dose usually associated with psychotropic effects of THC. Thus, THC or cannabinoids with activity at the CB2 receptor may be valuable targets for treating atherosclerosis.”

Another study conducted in 2007 and published in the American Journal of Physiology revealed that the cannabinoid CBD was effective in dealing with inflammation and other symptoms of atherosclerosis. Reported the study:

“Our results suggest that CBD, which has recently been approved for the treatment of inflammation, pain, and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis in humans, may have significant therapeutic benefits against diabetic complications and atherosclerosis.”

Dr. David Allen

In those who do suffer strokes, the administration of CBD and THC prior to onset can decrease the severity of the stroke significantly. Dr. David Allen, a former heart surgeon, when referring to cannabis in the treatment of stroke and heart disease, said “No other medicine made by man can help in this manner.”

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Allen cites a government patent from 2003 that reveals that the administration of cannabinoids prior to the onset of a stroke can decrease its severity by about 50 percent. Said Dr. Allen:

“No other chemical decreases the size of a stroke by even two percent. So this is like a miracle that it does this.”

Allen adds that it’s “nearly impossible to come back from many strokes.” Thus, any treatment, such as cannabinoids, that can decrease the severity of a stroke may serve to preserve life-giving cognitive and neurological functions, as well as critical motor skills. Instead of aspirin to thin the blood and decrease the chances of a blockage, Allen recommends cannabis to his patients. “Eat a bud a day, it keeps the stroke away,” said Allen.

Gooey Rabinski

Gooey Rabinski is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana.

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