Meet Carrie and her daughter, Maddie. Maddie suffers from hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of fluid in the brain’s cavities (ventricles), ultimately causing an increase in the size of the ventricles and cranial pressure.
Left untreated, hydrocephalus can cause brain damage and is fatal. Symptoms include headaches, being sick, blurred vision and difficulty walking. There are three main types of hydrocephalus:
- Congenital hydrocephalus – hydrocephalus that’s present at birth. This type of hydrocephalus can be caused by a condition such as spina bifida (when a baby’s spinal cord and spine don’t develop properly in the womb), or if the mother develops a particularly nasty infection during pregnancy, such as rubella or mumps.
- Acquired hydrocephalus – can affect children or adults. Usually develops after suffering from a serious illness, head injury, brain tumor or any other traumatic brain injury.
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) – Can develop after suffering a serious injury or a stroke. NPH often develops in those aged over 60, and because of NPH’s symptoms’ similarity to other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (mobility problems, dementia, urinary incontinence), it is difficult to diagnose and little-understood. The difficulty in diagnosis is further compounded by the fact that the symptoms develop slowly and gradually.
Long-Term Concerns Arising from Hydrocephalus
As hydrocephalus in children is often associated with spina bifida, long-term problems are common, even if surgery was successful and openings in the spine/spinal cord have been closed. This can include extreme weakness and paralysis of the legs, bowel and urinary incontinence, and loss of sensation. Hydrocephalus can also lead to other long-term complications such as:
- Impaired speech
- Memory problems
- Short attention span
- Troubles with organizational skills
- Visual impairment
- Loss of physical coordination
- Learning difficulties
How is hydrocephalus treated at the moment?
The most common way of treating hydrocephalus is by the use of a cerebral shunt. Cerebral shunts are valves connected to a catheter in the brain, the end of which is placed in the peritoneal cavity – the space between the parietal peritoneum and the visceral peritoneum, found in the abdomen.
The tube at the end of the shunt drains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), preventing the fluid from building up and causing an increase in intracranial pressure (ICP), which can lead to intracranial hematoma (ICH – bleeding within the skull, sometimes known as “intracranial bleed”), cerebral edema (excess accumulation of fluid), crushed brain tissue, or herniation (exit of tissue or an organ through the wall of the cavity in which it usually resides).
Shunts are prone to failure, especially in young people, whose bodies are still growing. Shunt failures resemble the onset of hydrocephalus, which isn’t surprising, as it means CSF is building up and causing it in the first instance! Other issues include over drainage, obstruction and infection. Surgeries are often needed in order to replace malfunctioning and damaged valves, whilst infections require antibiotics.
As far as medications go, several drugs are used, some more controversially than others, including: carbonic anhydrase inhibitors like acetazolamide (Diamox); loop diuretics like furosemide (Lasix); antibiotics such as meropenem (Merrem); and various, highly-addictive barbiturates and benzodiazepines.
How does Cannabidiol (CBD) Help Maddie with Hydrocephalus?
Whilst no one knows precisely how and why CBD works for so many people, but we can present some evidence that might help explain why it might work for Maddie. CBD may help treat hydrocephalus because:
- It can help manage sleep problems and anxiety-induced sleep disturbances – CBD may block anxiety-inducing REM sleep via its anxiolytic effect.
- Decreases or prevents nausea and vomiting – CB1 agonism suppresses vomiting. CBD is a partial CB1 agonist, whereas THC is a full CB1 agonist. The two together can induce very powerful anti-emetic effects.
- There are some theories that CBD can activate and desensitize the protein TRPV1 – aka the “capsaicin receptor” or “vanilloid receptor 1”. Desensitizing this receptor has an anti-convulsive effect. Many benzodiazepines also target these receptors, but CBD can do so just as if not more effectively, and far more safely as well.
- CBD may reduce the effects of brain damage, as it reduces inflammation, reduces oxidative stress and provide a “barrier” of protection against the over-accumulation of the neurochemical, glutamate, which is formed when the brain is deprived of oxygen.
- The entourage effect – several cannabinoids – including THC – also have their own anti-emetic effects, as well as promote neurogenesis. It is important to remember that it’s not just the CBD that is beneficial – the whole plant is.
- Cannabis and CBD may be neuroprotective.
- Cannabis can help with neuropathic pain.
- Cannabinoids may prove useful in controlling the urinary bladder.
People with hydrocephalus may be prescribed all sorts of drugs, many of which can cause all sorts of horrid, unwanted side-effects. Cannabis is a multi-pronged medication, which can help reduce the need or even replace other drugs, some of which have nasty long-term effects of their own. Moreover, cannabis and CBD may help treat conditions children like Maddie like have, and let them live decent lives, without the dangers of harsh pharmaceuticals.
Though this is all theory right now, bad regulations and prohibition of cannabis have prevented scientists and doctors from studying it objectively and for all of its potential medical properties. This needs to be changed if children like Maddie are to get the medicine they so sorely need.