Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Your brain is an important organ that controls every process in your body. So, when it undergoes a traumatic injury, the results can debilitate you. Brain injuries can cause anything from temporary impairment to death, so seek treatment right away if you ever severely hurt your head.
As an antioxidant and neuroprotectant, medical marijuana can reduce the impact of a brain injury. It lowers oxidative stress, stopping brain cell damage before it happens. The other properties of cannabis also protect the cells from further damage.
Firsching et al. explored the neuroprotective benefits of the synthetic cannabinoid KN38-7271. When used on animals, it protected their brain cells from damage. These exciting results prompted researchers to try it on humans needing that protection. This team wanted to specifically look at patients comatose from a brain injury.
Team members administered the drug to 97 comatose patients within four and a half hours of the underlying injury. The patients received a lower dose of the cannabinoid, a higher dose or a placebo. Firsching et al. recorded survival and neurological state at regular intervals during six months. During the first week, they also measured two kinds of brain pressure.
The group of patients who received a cannabinoid had higher survival rates than those who didn’t. They also experienced no harmful side effects. In addition, they had less severe and frequent brain pressure, preventing the resulting damage.
Knoller et al. tested the effects of another synthetic cannabinoid called dexanabinol on patients with severe head injuries. They mainly wanted to look at its safety and tolerability, but they also aimed to investigate its effectiveness. Finding a safe, useful treatment for brain injury could lower mortality and boost recovery.
The team conducted the study on 67 patients undergoing treatment in all six Israeli neurosurgical intensive care units. Each patient received treatment within six hours of their brain injury. Knoller et al. noted brain pressure, blood pressure and heart rate. And, of course, they monitored any adverse events and treatment outcomes.
Dexanabinol significantly increased the patients’ chance of a good neurologic outcome. The patients who received it spent much less time with high brain or blood pressure. It also didn’t seem to cause adverse events, as all patient groups had similar experiences.
Nguyen et al. investigated the link between marijuana use and mortality after brain injury. Many studies showed cannabinoids protect brain cells, so they wanted to apply this knowledge to head trauma. In particular, they looked at the impact of THC on survivability.
Instead of recruiting participants, the researchers looked at past medical records of brain injury patients who went through a toxicology screen. They narrowed it down to three years of patient records and divided them into patients tested positive for THC and patients tested negative. After accounting for outside factors, they measured the mortality rates for each group.
Patients with THC in their blood had a much higher chance of surviving than patients without. While 11.5% of the THC-negative subjects died, only 2.4% of the THC-positive participants did. When they checked for the influence of other factors on these results, the THC levels had an independent effect.
The best medical cannabis research is the research you do for yourself. Our guide to traumatic brain injury can teach you about your condition and how cannabis medicine can help. Want to try medical cannabis treatment? Schedule an appointment with a marijuana-positive doctor for an evaluation.