The brain needs drugs sometimes. It needs medicine. Mental and neurological disorders like schizophrenia and depression impact some 450 million people around the world.
A new study shows promise for a way patients can receive treatment: cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD.
The study, published in the American Chemical Society journal Molecular Pharmaceutics, found that this key compound in cannabis allowed researchers to administer drugs into mice brains they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do successfully. This stuff can get real complicated real quick, but it basically comes down to the blood-brain barrier. This barrier protects the brain by keeping what enters the bloodstream from reaching the brain, according to this University of Washington explainer.
It’s super useful against toxins and hormones that could mess up the brain’s balance. However, it’s really annoying for neuroscientists trying to provide relief to patients suffering from, say, a brain tumor. Sometimes the only way to give patients their necessary drugs is in high—even toxic—amounts.
Anyway, the team from the Open University and Complutense University wanted to see how they could sneak past this barrier. They decided to bring some pot into the mix. They “decorated,” as the study puts it, biodegradable nanocapsules with a CBD solution. Instead of putting actual medicine in the capsules, they filled them with a fluorescent molecule to keep track of where they go.
They then administered the drugs to human brain cells and a group of mice. The team found that the nanocarriers with CBD were more likely to pass through the blood-brain barrier in both groups. With the mice, in particular, the capsules with the CBD solution succeeded 2.5 more times than those without it. These capsules serve as the so-called “Trojan horse,” as referred to in this press release. They were able to sneak through the barrier undetected. That’s some breakthrough shit.
So far, this type of drug delivery is still in clinical trials, but this research might improve the odds of trials expanding into live patients. People living with a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis need all the help science can offer—and cannabis is here for it.
CBD works great, in particular, because it’s not known to cause any psychotropic effects. People don’t get high off it, and it doesn’t mess with the brain the way THC does. Still, THC has its benefits when it comes to cancer patients dealing with nausea and pain from their chemo. As for CBD, new research shows it could serve as a treatment for autism, and it’s already proven to help with anxiety and seizures. This is just the latest medical achievement for the chill compound.
Now, the researchers want to see the details of how this all works unraveled. The study authors imagine that the brain receptors that can read the CBD are playing a major role here. But finding out where in the brain-blood barrier these are receptors expressed, for instance, can help doctors provided more targeted treatments down the line.
This research is all still very new, but it holds important potential for treating neural diagnoses that often feel wrought. No cure exists for multiple sclerosis. And treating brain tumors can be highly invasive. CBD has worked magic elsewhere, so maybe it can bring science a step closer to finally eliminating these brain diseases.