How Cannabis Can Slow Down Traumatic Brain Injury Damage

Updated on January 31, 2019.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

How Cannabis Can Slow Down Traumatic Brain Injury Damage

Injuries can be distressing experiences. Emergency medical treatment and ongoing therapy may be required no matter what part of the body is damaged. But when this injury occurs to the head and brain, it may result in a traumatic brain injury.

More than 1.5 million brain injuries occur every year. Most of them are mild, and 80 percent of people are sent home the same day their injury occurs — but what’s unseen is the dangerous part. A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can cause lasting damage that could spread to other areas of the brain.

After doctors treat the initial damage caused by a TBI, they rely on medications to keep swelling down and prevent the spread of further injury. Medical marijuana is an incredible treatment for many of the adverse side effects associated with TBI. Cannabis can slow down the damage that can occur after patients experience brain injuries — but how?

What Causes TBI Damage to Spread?

The initial cause of a traumatic brain injury is usually apparent. Some kind of blow to the head is typically responsible for the injury. After that initial injury, however, an assortment of other complications can arise. The brain is a delicate organ. When damage occurs, the brain and other bodily functions could experience dangerous and long-lasting effects.

Examples of some of the more serious complications that can arise immediately or days and weeks after a TBI include:

  • Damage to brain cells, both isolated and widespread
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Brain swelling
  • Altered consciousness — coma, vegetative state, etc.
  • Seizures
  • Fluid build up
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Nerve damage
  • Physical and psychological difficulties

What makes traumatic brain injuries so dangerous is that even after a patient survives the initial injury, damage can spread because of the release of concentrated levels of certain chemicals, like glutamate and cytokines. After a TBI, the body sometimes releases neurotransmitters that are toxic to the body due to their large concentration. The release of these substances can lead to:

  • Excitotoxicity: When neurons are killed or damaged by overactive receptors
  • Oxidative Stress: When free radicals, which are a natural byproduct of oxygen metabolism, are not neutralized and your body is unable to detoxify their toxic effect
  • Inflammation: Some patients will experience inflammation in the brain

Slowing Down TBI With Medical Marijuana

To see how medical marijuana can help slow the effects of TBI, you need to understand how the plant affects the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system has neural receptors that run the gamut of the body and impact several different bodily functions, from emotional and sensory to digestive and neural.

Cannabinoids in marijuana, particularly CBD and THC, mimic ECS receptors. This is especially useful when disease or injury causes the endocannabinoid system to be imbalanced. Some of the ways this aids those with traumatic brain injuries include:

  • Prevents the release of cytokines — proinflammatories that can cause increased damage to the brain — when the cannabinoids in marijuana bind to specific ECS receptors
  • Decreases glutamate, a toxic molecule often released after a TBI
  • Aids the release of minocycline, a chemical that reduces swelling in the brain and any neurological impairment that may be occurring
  • Reduces brain cell death

Because of these positive effects that cannabinoids produce, studies are showing that medical marijuana may reduce the risk of brain damage occurring after a traumatic brain injury.

Speak to a Marijuana-Friendly Doctor

Traumatic brain injuries are very serious conditions that should be carefully monitored by a doctor. If you think medical marijuana could help you or a loved one with TBI, speak with a medical professional. Our advice should not replace their guidance, and your circumstances are unique. If you feel that cannabis is right for you, search for a doctor in your area or visit a marijuana dispensary today.

Additional Traumatic Brain Injury & Cannabis Resources

For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Traumatic Brain Injury, check out our resources: