Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical derived from either marijuana or hemp plants. Unlike THC, CBD has no intoxicating properties and doesn’t get the patient high. The drug is already being used to treat epilepsy, especially in children, and it shows great promise in treating certain forms of cancer. Although no large-scale studies have been done, CBD may also help treat anxiety, PTSD, and other medical issues.
The media has largely focused on medical problems cured or treated by CBD, rather than the possibilities of CBD as a preventative drug. This makes sense since most research has been done with patients who are already suffering from medical problems. New studies are popping up that show other uses of CBD, however, including its use as a possible preventative drug for infant birth injuries.
Infant hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a general type of birth injury in which the infant is deprived of oxygen long enough to cause brain damage. Common causes are uterine ruptures, umbilical cord complications, and cardiac arrest, though HIE can occur in a number of ways. This damage can be long-term and HIE has been linked to lung problems, epilepsy, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and poor motor skills. Although the causes of HIE are numerous and mostly well-understood, current treatments are focused on managing current symptoms and not actually preventing the damage.
Can CBD help?
Past research has shown that CBD can sometimes act as a neuroprotectant–a chemical that can help prevent brain damage. In one study, researchers found that CBD prevented HIE-induced neuronal injuries and hyperlocomotion in young gerbils. In another study, the authors found that CBD acted as a neuroprotectant against prion disease, a serious medical problem that causes brain proteins to fold incorrectly. Similar studies with similar results were conducted with mice that had been exposed to low oxygen conditions. This led yet another group of researchers to design an experiment to test if CBD could be used to prevent HIE-induced damage in infants.
To determine whether or not CBD could help prevent HIE damage, researchers tested their method on newborn piglets. They found that a dose of CBD prevented inflammatory lung damage after the pigs were exposed to HIE conditions. The scientists concluded that CBD either prevented brain inflammation (therefore preventing the damage completely) or directly affected and protected the lungs. Follow-up studies are necessary, but the authors of the paper determined that CBD shows great promise in treating infants that are at risk of HIE. This is fantastic news, since HIE affects 20 out of 1,000 live births–with the rate going up for premature births.
As more and more CBD studies pop up, we’re likely to learn even more about the possible neuroprotectant properties of the drug. This is why medical research is so important—while we have evidence of CBD preventing brain damage, we’re not completely sure why. Understanding the mechanisms will allow these drugs to move on to human trials. Current research in this area is exciting, as we learn about the chemical properties that make CBD such a useful form of medicine.
Learn more about CBD in a popular article we published here.