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Here’s How Stroke Patients Can Benefit from Medical Marijuana

here's how stroke patients can benefit from medical marijuana

According to a May 2023 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 Americans have a stroke annually. Approximately 600,000 of those patients have experienced a stroke for the first time, while 185,000 (or 1 in 4 people) have had a previous stroke.

In 2021, the CDC shares that 1 in 6 deaths caused by cardiovascular risk factors were due to stroke. And every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Sadly, every 4 minutes, someone experiences a fatality from a stroke.

In the United States, stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disabilities. It can reduce mobility, impair speech, and contribute to mood disorders, including episodes of aggression and depression. Many individuals experience post-stroke spasticity, which is the involuntary movement of muscle groups and spasms.

Did you know that the “healing herb” cannabis may provide therapeutic benefits for stroke patients? Research studies conducted on the human endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors hold promise for improving stroke symptoms and potentially reducing other cardiovascular risk factors.

cause of stroke

Knowing the Warning Signs of Having a Stroke

Fast medical intervention can not only reduce the brain damage caused by a stroke, but it can also save lives. That is why it is important for everyone to know what the warning signs are of having a stroke. In some cases, there may be early signs that are easy to miss before the stroke happens.

Be alert for symptoms of persistent headache, numbness, and tingling in the body. Many people experience those sensations 1-3 days before having a stroke. These are the symptoms of what is called a “mini-stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Approximately 40% of people experience a mini-stroke before a full stroke happens. That is because the blockage in the brain is for a short period, lasting less than five minutes. Some symptoms may occur after a mini-stroke, but they are mild in comparison to a full-stroke event.

There are two main types of strokes:

1. Ischemic Stroke

The statistical rate of this type of stroke is higher than other varieties. An ischemic stroke happens when the blood flow in the brain is obstructed by clots or fat buildup in veins and arteries.

2. Hemorrhagic Stroke

This type of stroke occurs when an artery ruptures and leaks within the brain. The fluid then creates excessive pressure in the brain, which causes damage.

If you experience any abnormal symptoms, get emergency care as soon as possible. Don’t wait. There are many treatment options that can actively prevent or reduce brain damage from ischemic strokes or hemorrhagic strokes if the situation is diagnosed early.

What Causes a Stroke?

Strokes used to be called a “brain attack,” similar to the condition of a heart attack. When something obstructs the flow of blood, brain damage can occur—usually caused by one or more broken blood vessels in the brain, reduced blood flow to the brain, or a blood clot.

When the brain is deprived of adequate oxygen and nutrients, cells are damaged and begin to die. A stroke can result in lasting brain damage, disability, and in some cases, death.

What Risk Factors Can Contribute to a Stroke?

Knowing the risk factors can help you protect your health. There are some clinical, hereditary, and lifestyle factors that can contribute to a stroke. And it is important to remember that a stroke can happen at any time, even to healthy and fit individuals with no preexisting health conditions.

Age and Gender

If you were to guess what age presents the highest risk of stroke, you might think it occurs in senior years. The highest risk is actually for infants under the age of one year. The second age-related risk of stroke is adults over the age of fifty years. However, strokes can happen at any age, which is important to remember.

At younger ages, men are more at risk of experiencing a stroke. However, after the age of thirty, women may be at increased risk due to prescription birth control medications, hormone treatments, and therapies. Women who were diagnosed with preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy have an increased risk of stroke later in life.

Diabetes

The risk of stroke is higher in patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. That is because high glucose in the bloodstream can compromise the blood flow to the brain. Over time, slower-moving blood deposits more plaque, which accumulates like debris on the inside of veins and major arteries. This narrows the passages where blood flows, increasing blood pressure and reducing the amount of oxygen delivered to organs, including the brain.

Patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to have a stroke compared to people without the chronic disease. Diabetes can also be a precursor to other diseases of the cardiovascular system, including heart attacks and stroke. Statistically, the rate of having a cardiovascular adverse event at a younger age is higher among patients with diabetes.

brain scan

Hypertension and Cardiovascular Diseases

High blood pressure is also called the “silent killer” because it is the precursor to many life-threatening diseases and adverse events, including stroke. Hypertension can lead to the development of blood clots in the brain. It can also damage small blood vessels in the brain, which may increase the risk of strokes caused by bleeding and brain damage.

Coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart valve disease, and carotid artery disease are cardiovascular system diseases that may increase the risk of developing blood clots and other obstructions. Including the presence of brain aneurysms or arteriovenous malformations (AVMs).

High LDL Cholesterol Levels

A diet high in saturated fats can also increase the risk of having a stroke. That is because fats are deposited by cells on the inside of veins and arteries. Over time, that contributes to obstructed blood flow and increased stroke risks.

Saturated fats are derived from animal products like fatty meats, cheese, dairy, and tropical oils such as palm oil. Foods that have higher saturated fat content may also be higher in cholesterol and should be minimized if you have one or more factors that increase your risk of having a stroke.

Heredity, Race, and Ethnicity

In the United States, black and brown Americans (including Hispanic adults) have higher rates of stroke than white adults. Indigenous peoples, like American Native populations, also have a higher statistical rate of strokes.

The risk of having a stroke is higher if a parent or another close family member has had a stroke, more prominently if the individual suffered a stroke at a younger age. Knowing your family history is an important part of protecting your health.

Your blood type may increase your risk of having a stroke. There is a genetic link to stroke, and individuals with type A.B. blood have statistically higher incident rates than other blood types.

Some Viral Infections and Diseases

Recent clinical studies have suggested that certain viral infections and inflammation-related chronic diseases may contribute to an increased risk of stroke. Respiratory infections like SARS-COV-2 (Covid-19) are believed to raise the risk of stroke.

Other diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may also be contributing factors. Moyamoya disease is a rare but progressive cerebrovascular disorder that can develop from blocked arteries in the brain. Individuals with the condition also face a higher risk of experiencing a stroke.

Lifestyle Factors That May Increase Stroke Risk

There are lifestyle and environmental factors that you may be able to control, which can reduce your risk of having a stroke. Healthier habits and awareness of risk factors are a great place to start.

Some of the ways you may be able to lower your risk of stroke include:

  • Seeking treatment for mental health conditions like chronic stress, anxiety, or depression.
  • Living in areas with less air pollution.
  • Eating a healthy diet and monitoring fat intake.
  • Regular blood pressure monitoring and treatment if required.
  • Reducing consumption of nicotine, tobacco products, and alcohol.
  • Establishing healthy sleep patterns (not more than 9 hours per day).
  • Reducing stimulant substances such as caffeine and illicit drugs like cocaine.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing abdominal fat.

Talk to your doctor about your risk factors for stroke, and get help establishing a treatment plan. Healthy habits can significantly reduce your chance of having a stroke. And awareness of the signs of having a stroke so that you can seek emergency medical care right away.

medical cannabis

The U.S. Government’s Patent on Cannabis & Strokes

Despite the fact that cannabis remains an illegal substance according to federal law, there are examples of acknowledgment by the federal government with regard to the potential value of medicinal use.

One of the most interesting things about cannabis and strokes is that there is a patent held by the U.S. Government that says cannabis does, in fact, treat strokes. U.S. Patent No. 6630507B1 states cannabis acts as a neuroprotectant following an ischemic stroke, among other cerebral diseases.

There are also four other previous patents that have identified cannabinoids as a possible neuroprotectant, including:

  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,538,993
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,521,215
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,284,867
  • U.S. Pat. No. 5,434,295

Patent No. 6,630,507 that was initially mentioned above, tells us something very important: “Data shows that infarct size was approximately halved in the animals treated with cannabidiol, which was also accompanied by a substantial improvement in the neurological status of the animal.” Cannabidiol is CBD and sourced from agricultural hemp plants.

While this was filed after a study performed on rats, it still shows promise for the potential benefits cannabis could have on humans. By protecting against glutamate neurotoxicity and free radical-induced cell death, cannabis may be a promising medicine for treating strokes. In fact, the 50% reduction in infarction size in the rats was compared to other drugs, which show no greater than a 2% reduction in infarction.

Research on Cannabis and Stroke Patients

Research suggests that different cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, could have several benefits following a stroke. However, it is essential to note that most studies to date are animal experiments rather than human clinical trials, and the results should be taken into consideration with some caution.

In 2007, the Neuropharmacology journal published a study that highlighted the findings and the ability of CBD to be of great use when treating ischemia. It found that “cannabidiol is a potent antioxidant agent without developing tolerance to its neuroprotective effect, acting through a C.B. (1) receptor-independent mechanism.” In other words, CBD protects injured brains without having to increase the dose over time as needed with other cannabinoids, such as THC.

A study that was published in the same abovementioned journal in 2012, in which researchers looked at how ischemic events impacted rats over a long period of time, indicated that “CBD administration after [hypoxia-ischemia] injury to newborn rats led to long-lasting neuroprotection.” 

Some Studies Suggest Cannabis Can Improve Blood Flow

The British Journal of Pharmacology published a 2011 study indicating that “2-AG (an endogenous cannabinoid that is nearly identical to THC) decreases brain edema, inflammation, and infarct volume and improves clinical recovery.” The researchers also noted the existence of other research, indicating that “numerous studies on experimental models of brain toxicity, neuroinflammation, and trauma supports the notion that the eCB is part of the brain’s compensatory or repair mechanisms.” 

In 2014, a review for the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism suggested that cannabinoids are “promising candidates for future treatment” after looking at several studies in which scientists gave THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids to animals soon after an ‘experimental stroke.’ The results indicated that the endocannabinoid system plays a role in the body’s response to a stroke because the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 become more active, and the release of beneficial endocannabinoids increases.

Furthermore, cannabinoids work to protect nerve cells from damage by activating C.B. and 5HT1A (serotonin) receptors. Researchers observed the most significant effects when they administered cannabinoids within 4–5 hours after the stroke, suggesting that cannabinoids may help to prevent brain damage to some extent but do not fully reverse it.

healthy lifestyle

The Risks of Cannabis Use in Stroke Recovery

While there are many potential benefits of using medical marijuana during stroke recovery, there are some risks to be considered. Several studies suggest that the plant can increase the risk of having a stroke, especially among young, healthy people.

In 2017 there was a report published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease that suggested recreational marijuana use raises the risk of hospitalization due to ischemic stroke by 17% in the 18–54 age group.

The report stated that cannabis has several significant effects on the cardiovascular system, including increased heart rate, irregular heartbeat, vasospasms, irregular blood flow to the brain, and acute rises in supine blood pressure.

Additionally, the World Health Organization has put out a report that suggests the risk is higher in chronic and current cannabis users. Strokes are most likely to occur during use or within the first few minutes afterward. 

This is why state legislators who legalize medical cannabis use require regular doctor follow-up consultations. While cannabis is well tolerated and can be helpful to many people, there may be some health risks associated with long-term marijuana use.

With the guidance of an experienced physician and regular consultations, patients can monitor changing health conditions, including chronic diseases, hypertension, and more.

Becoming a Medical Marijuana Patient

In order to be able to legally purchase and use medical marijuana products, you must meet specific requirements set forth by the state where you live. That includes a diagnosis of one or more qualifying health conditions or symptoms approved by the state medical cannabis program.

Some of the common qualifying health conditions which can make you eligible for a medical cannabis card include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Epilepsy
  • Chronic Pain
  • Diabetic Neuropathy

A formal diagnosis by a board-certified physician or practitioner is required in order to qualify for a medical cannabis card. An appointment is necessary with a physician to review your health history, current diagnoses, and symptoms.

Getting Approved for a Medical Marijuana Card

If the physician feels that medical cannabis can be a safe option for you, a recommendation is provided. However, if you have one or more health conditions that may make medical marijuana unsafe to use therapeutically, the physician will not approve your request. We put the safety of our patients first.

While this can be frustrating to some patients, remember that the doctor’s appointment and consultation are in place to help protect your health. Patients who consult with a DocMJ physician and do not qualify are issued a 100% refund on their appointment fee.

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