Traumatic brain injuries are brain dysfunctions that are caused by an outside blow to the head. Studies have shown marijuana helps limit brain damage and improves recovery when administered shortly after the traumatic blow.
Overview of Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a disruption of the normal function of the brain caused by a bump or blow to the head. A mild brain injury, or concussion, can cause temporary brain cell dysfunction, while a more serious injury can cause the brain tissue to bruise, tear or bleed and result in long-term complications or death.
In a TBI, the blow to the head causes damage to the brain cells. The damage can be isolated to the point of impact or can be more widespread if the impact causes the brain to moves back and forth within the skull. In addition, bleeding in the brain, or swelling, can cause greater damage to brain cells.
According to Mayo Clinic, additional complications can arise from TBI’s, including altered consciousness (coma, vegetative state, locked-in syndrome, brain death, etc…), seizures, fluid buildup, blood vessel damage, nerve damage, and intellectual, communication, sensory and behavioral problems.
The physical and psychological symptoms of a TBI can vary significantly and can arise immediately after the traumatic blow or even weeks later. Physical symptoms include a loss of consciousness or being dazed, headache, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, sleeping more than usual and dizziness. It’s not uncommon for sensory problems, like blurred vision or ear ringing to occur. Also, memory and concentration problems, mood changes and a feeling of depression are cognitive symptoms of a TBI.
For mild brain injuries, rest and over-the-counter pain relievers for headaches are often adequate for recovery. More severe brain injuries require emergency care procedures to ensure oxygen, blood levels and blood pressure remain at adequate levels. Medications may be used to help limit secondary damage caused by fluid buildup. In some cases, surgery is required to repair skull fractures or to relief pressure by draining fluid.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Traumatic Brain Injuries
Following the blow that leads to TBI’s, the body releases harmful mediators that lead to excitotoxicity, oxidative stress and inflammation and causes secondary, delayed neuronal death (Biegon, 2004). Cannabis, however, has been shown to offer protection to the neural system, thus reducing the amount of brain damage (Mechoulam, Spatz & Shohami, 2002) (Mechoulam & Shohami, 2007) (Mechoulam, Panikashvili & Shohami, 2002) (Biegon, 2004).
It’s cannabis’ major cannabinoids that are responsible for these beneficial effects following TBI’s. Cannabinoids have been shown to act on the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which in turn prevents the release of proinflammatory cytokines that are released after brain drama and cause damage (Panikashvili, et al., 2006). Activating of the CB1 and CB2 receptors also has been shown to stimulate the release of minocycline, which reduces brain swelling and neurological impairment, and diffuses further injuries to the brain’s axons (Lopez-Rodriguez, et al., 2015) (Biegon, 2004).
In one study, a cannabinoid administered to mice with brain injuries caused a significant reduction of brain swelling, as well as better clinical recovery, reduced infarct volume, and reduced brain cell death compared to the control group (Panikashvili, et al., 2001). Mice that had suffered an impact brain injury showed marked recovery in object recognition and in performing a specific task after CB1 receptors were activated (Arain, Khan, Craig & Nakanishi, 2015).
One study found that patients that had detectable levels of THC in their bodies were less likely to die as a result of a traumatic brain injury than those who didn’t (Nguyen, et al., 2014). Just recently, researchers from the University of Arizona found that trauma patients who tested positive for cannabis upon hospital admission were less likely to die during hospitalization (Singer, et al., 2017).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Traumatic Brain Injuries
A number of other states will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries with the recommendation from a physician. These states include: California (any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been recommended by a physician), Connecticut (other medical conditions may be approved by the Department of Consumer Protection), Massachusetts (other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician), Nevada (other conditions subject to approval), Oregon (other conditions subject to approval), and Rhode Island (other conditions subject to approval).
In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ Effect on Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Arain, M., Khan, M., Craig, L., and Nakanishi, S.T. (2015, March). Cannabinoid agonist rescues learning and memory after a traumatic brain injury. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, 2(3), 289-94. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369278/.
- Biegon, A. (2004). Cannabinoids as neuroprotective agents in traumatic brain injury. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 10(18), 2177-83. Retrieved from http://www.eurekaselect.com/62903/article.
- Donat, C.K., Fischer, F., Walter, B., Deuther-Conrado, W., Brodhun, M., Bauer, R.., and Brust, P. (2014). Early increase of cannabinoid receptor density after experimental traumatic brain injury in the newborn piglet. Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis, 74,197-210. Retrieved from http://www.ane.pl/linkout.php?pii=7419.
- Injury Prevention and Control: Traumatic Brain Injury. (2015, February 24). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html.
- López Rodríguez, A.B., Mateos Vicente, B., Romero-Zerbo, S.Y., Rodriguez-Rodriguez, N., Bellini, M.J., Rodriguez de Fonseca, F., Bermudez-Silva, F.J., Azcoitia, I., Garcia-Segura, L.M., and Viveros, M.P. (2011, September). Estradiol decreases cortical reactive astrogliosis after brain injury by a mechanism involving cannabinoid receptors. Cerebral Cortex, 21(9), 2046-55. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/cercor/bhq277.
- Lopez-Rodriguez, A.B., Siopi, E., Finn, D.P., Marchand-Leroux, C., Garcia-Segura, L.M., Jafarian-Tehrani, M., and Viveros, M.P. (2015, January). CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptor antagonists prevent minocycline-induced neuroprotection following traumatic brain injury in mice. Cerebral Cortex, 25(1), 35-45. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/cercor/bht202.
- Mechoulam, R., and Shohami, E. (2007, August). Endocannabinoids and traumatic brain injury. Molecular Neurobiology, 36(1), 68-74. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12035-007-8008-6.
- Mechoulam, R., Spatz, M., and Shohami, E. (2002, April 23). Endocannabinoids and neuroprotection. Science’s STKE, 2002(129). Retrieved from http://stke.sciencemag.org/content/2002/129/re5.full.
- Mechoulam, R., Panikashvili, D., and Shohami, E. (2002, February). Cannabinoids and brain injury: therapeutic implications. Trends in Molecular Medicine, 8(2), 58-61. Retrieved from http://www.cell.com/trends/molecular-medicine/fulltext/S1471-4914(02)02276-1.
- Nguyen, B.M., Kim, D., Bricker, S., Bongard, F., Neville, A., Putnam, B., Smith J., and Plurad, D. (2014, October). Effect of marijuana use on outcomes in traumatic brain injury. The American Surgeon, 80(10), 979-83. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sesc/tas/2014/00000080/00000010/art00015.
- Panikashvili, D., Shein, N.A., Mechoulam, R., Trembovler, V., Kohen, R., Alexandrovich, A., and Shohami, E. (2006, May). The endocannabinoid 2-AG protects the blood-brain barrier after closed head injury and inhibits mRNA expression of proinflammatory cytokines. Neurobiology of Disease, 22(2), 257-74. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969996105003074?via%3Dihub.
- Panikashvili, D., Simeonidou, C., Ben-Shabat, S., Hanus, L., Breuer, A., Mechoulam, R., Shohami, E. (2001, October). An endogenous cannabinoid (2-AG) is neuroprotective after brain injury. Nature, 413(6855), 527-31. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/35097089.
- Shohami, E., Cohen-Yeshurun, A., Magid, L., Algali, M., and Mechoulam, R. (2011). Endocannabinoids and traumatic brain injury. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1402–1410. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165950/.
- Singer, M., Azim, A., O’Keefe, T., Khan, M., Jain, A., Kulvatunyou, N., Gries, L., Jehan, F., Tang, A., and Joseph, B. (2017, August 5). How Does Marijuana Effect Outcomes After Trauma in ICU Patients? A Propensity Matched Analysis. The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000001672. [Epub ahead of print]. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/jtrauma/Abstract/publishahead/How_Does_Marijuana_Effect_Outcomes_After_Trauma_in.98956.aspx.
- Traumatic brain injury. (2014, May 15). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/traumatic-brain-injury/basics/definition/con-20029302.
- Xu, Z., Lv, X.Q., Dai, Q. Ge, Y.Q. and Xu, J. Acute upregulation of neuronal mitochondrial type-1 cannabinoid receptor and it’s role in metabolic defects and neuronal apoptosis after TBI. Molecular Brain, 9,75. Retrieved from https://molecularbrain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13041-016-0257-8.