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Can Cannabis Prevent and Treat Traumatic Brain Injury?

July 24, 2016

Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, is a serious condition usually caused by an external blow to the head that can cause severe and often chronic symptoms. These symptoms can be cognitive, behavioral, movement related, speech and visual impairing, mood altering, involve painful headaches, and even cause gastrointestinal issues.

Each year in just the U.S., nearly 52,000 people die from TBI and 80,000 sustain severe disabilities. Compare that to car fatalities (32,675) and homicides (14,196), which combined claim fewer lives. Moreover, 5.3 million people in the U.S. live with TBI-related disabilities, a number comparable to those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

How Cannabis Can Slow Traumatic Brain Injury Damage

Medical marijuana

While effective therapies to treat ongoing TBI symptoms have been difficult to come by, thanks to researchers like Prof. Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University, we’ve discovered that cannabis may prevent long-term brain damage by administering THC before or shortly after the injury. In fact, Israel Defense Force (IDF) practitioners administer CBD or low-dose THC as a first-line treatment to IDF soldiers – and even enemy combatants – who suffer brain trauma.

Sarne and his team published their results in 2013, where they demonstrated that administering just a fraction of the amount of THC that would be found in a typical cannabis joint anywhere from one to seven days prior to, or one to three days after an injury, induces the biochemical processes necessary to protect critical brain cells while preserving long-term cognitive function.

Can Cannabis Help People Currently Suffering From TBI?

Brain scan

Given the success found in Israel utilizing cannabis to halt TBI in its tracks, it begs the question: can cannabis help persistent TBI symptoms?

Anecdotally, many patients and their families report success. The daughter of one patient wrote in a Reddit forum:

“My father suffered severe TBI for years. He used to sit around hating his life all day. Once he started using marijuana, he changed a lot. He was able to get off some of his meds, start eating more, go outside, enjoy music, laugh at a movie, sleep at night, less anxiety in the day, less body pain. The list goes on and on.”

We hear many success stories like this, but these are, of course, anecdotal. Thus far, there aren’t any notable clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of cannabis to treat ongoing symptoms in TBI patients. Unfortunately, even outside of cannabis research, phase II/III clinical trials of potential treatments haven’t demonstrated any consistent improvements in outcomes.

How Does Cannabis Consumption Affect the Brain?

The lack of cannabinoid-focused trials is likely due in part to the federal government’s long-standing position that cannabis is a “substance [with] no currently accepted medical use” and “a high potential for abuse” – a position that has long frustrated scientists who are forced to navigate significant bureaucratic obstacles to conduct high-quality rigorous studies.

Nonetheless, despite the federal government’s position, there is some evidence that at least lends support to speculation that cannabis-derived treatments may be beneficial:

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“Effect of Marijuana Use on Outcomes in Traumatic Brain Injury” (UCLA Medical Center, 2014):

In a three-year retrospective review of 446 separate cases of similarly injured patients, researchers found traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients who had a history of cannabis consumption possessed increased survival rates compared to non-consumers (97.6 percent survived surgery, versus 88.5% of those who didn’t consume cannabis).

“[O]ur data suggest an important link between the presence of a positive THC screen and improved survival after TBI,” the researchers concluded. “With continued research, more information will be uncovered regarding the therapeutic potential of THC, and further therapeutic interventions may be established.”

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“Endocannabinoids and Traumatic Brain Injury” (Mechoulam, 2007):

This Israeli study points to research that demonstrates:

“…the [endocannabinoid] system…has the ability to [positively] affect the functional outcome after TBI by a variety of mechanisms.”

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“The Therapeutic Potential of the Cannabinoids in Neuroprotection” (Grundy RI, 2002):

This review shows that in experimental models:

“…various cannabinoids rescue dying neurons in experimental forms of acute neuronal injury, such as cerebral ischaemia and traumatic brain injury.”

5 Promising Cannabis Studies That Explore How Cannabinoids Interact with the Human Body

Positive results in experimental models don’t always translate to human subjects, hence the desperate need for more research. But, as early research shows promise and we know cannabinoids demonstrate neuroprotective effects in a variety of neurological conditions, there’s no excuse not to prioritize further research.

Further, because TBI is a condition affecting a highly complex, intricate system like the brain, successful strategies will likely involve more than a single “magic bullet.”

CBD Can Be Remarkably Effective for TBI

Patient receiving an MRI

In the meantime, as we continue to learn more about THC and other cannabinoids to treat traumatic brain injury, many physicians believe CBD can be a safe and effective treatment. CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that possesses neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties, could be as close to a “magic bullet” as we have right now. In fact, CBD may be more beneficial than THC. Japanese researchers found cannabidiol (CBD) exhibited stronger antioxidative power than THC without creating tolerance to its neuroprotective effect.

Dr. Allan Frankel, of GreenBridge Medical in Santa Monica, California, believes incorporating small amounts of CBD as a daily nutritional supplement is a safe and sensible adjunct to therapy. “I had a patient recently, a 45 year mother who was in a bad car accident. She experienced memory loss, and hadn’t been making any progress. I suggested CBD,” recounts Frankel. “Within four to six weeks, she made significant progress – her cognitive function improved and her memory returned to normal.” Frankel notes that this is just one of many patients he’s had who have experienced successful recoveries.

While clearly there’s lots of promise in the limited research to date and anecdotal reports, we need to continue developing our understanding of cannabinoid neurobiology in order to most effectively exploit the numerous therapeutic properties of cannabis. We can then, hopefully, unleash the full spectrum of potential benefits cannabis may be able to provide and discover innovative new treatments that could quite possibly help the millions of people who continue to suffer.

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  • MarijuanaWiki.ML

    Cannabis helps the brain, unlike the stupid rumor started by Ronald Reagan. The rumor that smoking weed will kill your brain cells, and make you stupid. When I speak to others in the cannabis community on the subject, they all say that cannabis hasn’t magically turned them idiotic. Researchers over the years wanted to know if there was any truth to these rumors. In particular the University of Louisville did a study on teens and adults who regularly consume cannabis, and people who don’t use cannabis read here: They ran an MRI scan on both groups of people and couldn’t find any differences. Both groups were the same. Cannabis can prevent alzheimer’s, help treat traumatic brain injury, and shrink tumors in half, what can’t it do? This was a nice article, people to deserve to know the truth.

    • Joseph Conrad

      Repairing injured, damaged humans is BIG BUSINESS IN THE U.S. the sources of Revenue Generation are MYRIAD.
      Cancer Care, Epilepsy, PTSB, Pain make BIG MONEY for Equipment Manufacturers & Drug Makers, etc.
      Rich Wasps & Jews who run the nation will NEVER PERMIT the research on Marijuana that must occur to go forward.

  • Sue1972

    I’m curious if anyone can help me… When I was 15 (I’m now 44) I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury. I am hoping Cannabis will help with some of the long term effects I experience. The anecdotal information I have read on the subject (and I’ve looked at quite a few studies) indicate it helps if taken immediately following the injury. I suffer from chronic pain (and I know THC/CBD will help with that), but I am more interested in what it will do with memory. I have a horrible short term memory, and it is getting worse as I age.

    • Jimmy Dean

      It said in the article that cbd could help, but was anecdotal and needed to be taken for 6 weeks. I’d try it if I were you. Its great for so many thongs, especially neurological issues which may be what your dealing with. Hope you find improvement.

  • littlefoot

    I think cannabis is why i survived my brain injury. I have a lot of issues and i am totally changed but im alive.


      Remember that five bucks you owe me?

      • littlefoot

        no, who’s this

  • eddysaxx

    Interesting to note that when archaeologists dug down into Gobeki Tepe in Turkey, that is approx. 12,000 yrs old …they discovered a ceremonial bowl carved out of rock & scanned the bowl with spectro/graphic analysis …after analysis they discovered spike traces of …Opium …Epinephrine & ‘Cannabis’…seems its been our symbiotic botanical friend for millennia …cheers

    • blue579

      Someone who loves GMOs (GMO Roberts below) can be sure to offer up very distasteful remarks. I’m reposting his reply here as evidence in case he changes it. “I guess if it can prevent brain injury it is a shame you weren’t on it as a child before your mommy dropped you on your head.”

      I have to wonder if his job is to be a vulgar agitator. He and his entire ilk appear to be serving handlers aiming to get the internet censored.

      What a contrast to your enlightened commentary. Yes, we co-evolved with Mother Nature’s remedies, what a beautiful thing. 😉

      Community service message: Watch your step directly below. (GMO Roberts)

      • eddysaxx

        He certainly exhibits all the criteria for being extremely mentally ill

  • Tark McCoy

    Not mentioned: How cannabis helps people from GIVING traumatic brain injuries to others.

  • Damen Barnard

    This is an interesting read. I sustained a severe TBI 4 years ago, however, every time I smoke cannabis, even small amounts, I am noticeably less communicative and my brain really struggles to function. All in all, MD’s are amazed at how well I can perform considering the injuries I sustained.

    So coming from a brain injury survivor, I feel that cannabis exacerbates my brain function a lot

  • Chad XXX

    I suffered a closed head injury when I was a victim in a non fault car accident. Comatose for a week and a half, physical and occupational therapy for over 3 years. It’s been a long while since, September 2,1988.. 15 years ago I suffered a seizure, and developed seizure disorder due to head injury. I was given the strongest meds, carbatrol and lamotrogin in high doses. They made me feel like shit. Years later I felt a little better but still had seizures occasionally. No good. The meds worked but the side effects were horrible. Then put became legal. I heard it stops the side effects. I have used pot for at least 29 years. Shit I hadn’t used anything more than 3or4 beers. But o tried CBD. Shit. I feel better the first 5 drops. I have smoked some of the free joints I’ve been given, but CBD, and a few other ways of dosage are great. You needed to investigate for your own good, but this has been a great Discovery!

  • nessa3

    I have CPTSD, depression, anxiety, joint pain and inflammation…mood issues,.
    What is the best to take? CBD or THC and dosage

  • Jeanice brown

    I need some more information because Im wondering if it would be beneficial for someone that had severe head injury 25 years ago.

    • Chad Hart

      My wife suffered a TBI five years ago – we just went to Chicago to start a new treatment that may help you as well. Here’s the link for it.