Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Meet Nikki Lawley, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor and cannabis advocate who was once a pediatric nurse, a blackjack dealer, and an HVAC salesperson. Meeting her, you would think, “That makes sense, and she’s a lively person who has it together.” Well, you would be correct in that assessment, but Nikki’s injuries, unfortunately, put a dampener on that lifestyle for quite some time, and it wasn’t until she found cannabis that she found some reprieve.
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Nikki Lawley In Her Own Words
“I’ve been a hard and reliable worker all my life. My desire to help people eventually brought me to pediatric nursing. I loved the job, but unfortunately, it’s also where I got my TBI after a patient knocked me back into a wall. The sudden jolt shook my head, and I had to leave my job.
Despite having been a nurse, once I became a patient, all the credibility and knowledge I had as an equal was thrown out the window — it was a huge battle initially to be heard and believed. All they could do was prescribe me more drugs – drugs that led me almost to kill myself. It seemed strange that doctors would prescribe harsh medications that would fry my brain as much as my injury did, but they did so anyway, regardless of what I told them.
I almost killed myself from the horrible concoctions of drugs I was on. I was planning it – there is no doubt in my mind I would not be here today If I had not found the plant that day while on vacation in Vegas in January 2017. I was never taught about cannabis as medicine in nursing school and had never heard of the endocannabinoid system (ECS)!
There is no doubt that cannabis has changed my life for the better. Although things are still a challenge, I can now face those challenges and not be stuck in the downward spiral I was on when I was stuck on a concoction of pharmaceuticals.”
Why does cannabis work for TBI?
Like many people with health problems and disabilities, you would probably never realize that Nikki has to work hard every day to keep on top of her condition. A combination of medication and mental fortitude keeps the “I’m doing well” mask on for the rest of the world. However, when Nikki doesn’t have cannabis, the mask starts peeling away, and you can see the difficulties she has keeping her TBI symptoms at bay.
So, why does cannabis help Nikki and so many like her?
There are four main reasons why cannabis can help with a variety of TBIs:
- Cannabinoids like THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory effects, and they could be beneficial for the treatment of neuroinflammation. Brain fog is a hallmark symptom of brain inflammation, where communication between neurons is slowed down, and Cannabinoids can help alleviate this fog.
- Several cannabinoids, like CBC, CBD, and CBG have neuroprotective effects. This means that cannabinoids can help protect the brain from further damage. Terpenes like limonene and pinene may also have similar neuroprotective effects.
- Cannabis’ multi-receptor effect – cannabinoids interact with dopamine, serotonin, and opioid receptors, amongst many others. Because of this, cannabinoids can help treat many other symptoms associated with TBI, such as depression, neuropathic (nerve) pain, and chronic pain. THCA and CBD can be helpful in the treatment of seizures.
- Cannabis can help reduce reliance upon more harmful medications. TBI patients have often been prescribed several drugs, including ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, baclofen, antidepressants, cyclobenzaprine, modafinil, and much more. Things that can make you feel up, down, and sideways, all mixed.
Traumatic brain injuries – statistics and information
As it’s TBI Awareness Month, we thought it would be helpful to raise some awareness about it! TBIs are usually caused by a sudden jolt, bump or blow to the head. In 2014, an average of 155 people died in the United States each day from injuries that included a TBI. Between 2006 and 2014, TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths increased by 53%. In 2014, TBI contributed to the deaths of 56,800 people, including 2,529 deaths among children.
Falls are the most common cause of TBI, followed by being struck by or against an object. Regarding hospitalizations due to TBI, falls accounted for 52%, motor vehicle crashes 20%. Sadly, intentional self-harm was the first leading cause of TBI-related deaths (33%) in 2014. This could be due to the difficulty and depression associated with living with a TBI and people, unfortunately, using deadly means to commit suicide (e.g., firearms).
TBIs can range from mild to severe, but even mild TBI sufferers can suffer from long-term headaches, confusion, dizziness, fatigue, depression, irritability, and memory problems. In more severe cases, the senses may also be affected, and many have reported a loss of taste or smell after suffering from a TBI. Vision can also be severely impacted, and some level of sight loss is common in many TBI survivors.
TBIs can be immensely challenging to live with. The loss of independence associated with it can lead to despair, especially if a person is used to living an active lifestyle. Fortunately, for many TBI survivors, cannabis can help them retain – and potentially even regain – their brains.
If you’d like to know more about Nikki and her advocacy work, check out Nikki and the Plant website.
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