The History of Malaria & New Cannabidiol Treatment
Categories: Guest Post Health & Healing
Guest post from Cannabis Health Index author Uwe Blesching
Adapted from CHI Magazine
Malaria is a worldwide tropical disease that puts about half the world’s population at risk, with people of the poorest nations being the most vulnerable. To make matters worse, malaria is growing resistant to available drugs. It is estimated that each year, 330 – 500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and it’s further estimated that of those, between one and three million people die. Most of them are young children. The vast majority of malaria cases and deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed at a distance by India and Brazil.
Orthodox medicine provides us some understanding of how the disease is transmitted. In a nutshell, when a mosquito bites a person with malaria, the mosquito drinks infected blood. The malaria parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) is easily transmitted to a new host when she bites again. Once inside the new host, the parasites enter red blood cells and destroy them.
The body’s immune system initiates complex and strong responses, such as malaria’s characteristic high fevers and chills. Many of the cyclical phases the disease engenders are poorly understood. This is especially true with the most severe form of the illness, cerebral malaria (where the brain undergoes sudden and severe changes).
Orthodox treatment is limited to pharmacological prevention and treatment protocols, with supportive care as needed. To date, all modern treatments may or may not be completely effective, and no drug prevention protocol provides 100% protection. In the worst case scenarios, physicians are left to merely manage the progression of the disease as best as they can.
It is interesting to note that malaria was once endemic in the US (eradicated only in 1951), Poland (1956), Japan (1961), Taiwan (1963), Italy (1970), and Aneityum, a South-Sea island of Vanuatu (1996). The key to eradication in all these cases was not simply a drug, but basic public health measures and care for nature and the environment, such as underground plumbing, clean public water supplies, wastewater treatments, education, and (minimal) environmental stewardship.
But, back to remedies. A quick look at the history of malaria treatments will point out nature’s continuous supportive role in preventing and saving lives. Once first contact was made in the fifteenth century, European invaders and missionaries quickly learned from local shamans. Initially, only one remedy emerged: the bitter tasting bark of cinchona. However, over time, the parasite developed resistance.
Nineteenth-century researchers took their molecular cue from the tree’s constituent compounds and developed the first pharmaceutical, quinine, that mirrored the plant’s power over the parasite, but with enough of a difference to overcome resistance. Few new pharmaceutical remedies have been developed since. And, over time, each drug is rendered weaker and weaker as parasite resistance grows. It wasn’t until much later—millions of deaths later—that another gift from nature alleviated the horrific toll on humanity. Enter a demure shrub, sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua). The plant was studied in modern times by Tu Youyou, a Chinese scientist influenced by traditional Chinese medicine, which has used the herb to treat fever for millennia. Youyou discovered the compound artemisinin, which is now the basis for malaria treatment options. In 2015, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her discovery, which is credited with saving untold lives.
Still, as resistance is growing again, new and safe treatments need to be urgently found. Luckily, nature provides us yet again with another potent possibility. This time, researchers from Brazil, responding to this urgent need, have discovered that cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive compound of cannabis with known neuroprotective properties, has the capacity to reduce inflammation of the brain during cerebral malaria.1 CBD is also effective in preventing the memory loss and anxiety commonly associated with the neurological phase of malaria. The experiment was conducted on mice, and while human trials are still to be conducted, it is good to know that new, safe, and natural treatment options may be forthcoming.
- Campos AC, Brant F, Miranda AS, Machado FS, Teixeira AL. Cannabidiol increases survival and promotes rescue of cognitive function in a murine model of cerebral malaria. Neuroscience. 2015 Mar 19;289:166-80.