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Medical Cannabis: New Study Finds Cannabinoids Useful in Treating Traumatic Brain Injury

Cedical marijuana is already used to ease symptoms and to treat a variety of conditions, but recent research supports the idea that it can also help patients suffering from a traumatic brain injury as well. Recently released research from Israel’s Hebrew University shows that traumatic brain injury (TBI) can effectively be treated with cannabis. Use of marijuana products after a concussion or other injury could limit brain damage and even reduce recovery time, provided the cannabis is administered immediately after the injury. The latest research supports other studies which have also shown the effectiveness of cannabis on head injuries; the recent study moves us one step closer to human trials and legalization.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury – and Why Does This Study Matter?

Why does this research matter so much? A TBI can have a long lasting, devastating impact on the patient’s life and ability to recover. A traumatic brain injury occurs after a collision, blow to the head or other impact. The NFL made headlines in 2016 when it was discovered that many former players had TBI-related problems ranging from memory loss to decreased cognitive function and even physical issues.

When you fall, collide while playing sports or are in a car accident, a blow to your head could cause a concussion; it can also cause damage to your brain cells. After a TBI, brain cells could be so damaged they can’t recover, leading to intellectual disabilities, sensory problems, communication problems and more.

Since the effects of a TBI are long term and can prevent the injured person from working, enjoying life or even living independently, researchers are actively seeking better alternatives for care. Cannabis, with its positive impacts on the brain, is one of the most promising options in the fight against TBI and its devastating results.

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How Cannabis Can Help

Because of the way that cannabis affects the brain, it can be used to limit the impact of a traumatic brain injury by protecting the neural system. When you have a blow to the head and brain cells die, surrounding cells can be impacted as well; the increased stress and inflammation can cause additional neuronal death and cause even more extensive damage. Use of cannabis immediately after the injury could protect the neural system. In studies performed as early as 2002, cannabis showed promise in limiting the damage caused by brain injury.

The reason cannabinoids seem to influence traumatic brain injury could be simply their chemical makeup. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main compound in marijuana; it reacts with the endocannabinoid system in the human body and natural cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Other mammals have similar systems, including mice.

Once an injury to the head occurs, the brain responds by producing compounds to protect itself; in the recent Israeli study, mice were shown to have an increase in the endocannabinoid 2-AG after a traumatic brain injury, but not in amounts high enough to protect the brain. Researchers used the 2-AG found in the plant form of marijuana to treat the mice, raising their natural levels. The mice responded by recovering more readily and with fewer long-term after effects. Researchers hope that this evidence of improvement will lead to human trials and that introducing 2-AG to injured humans will yield similar results.

Patients with THC in their systems are less likely to experience side effects after head injury and even less likely to die, according to researchers from UCLA. Since THC can limit the damage caused by a blow to the head, patients could eventually achieve better outcomes after a head injury. More studies are needed to discover how effective cannabis is on human subjects, but medical marijuana is already being used to treat the effects of TBI after the initial injury occurs.

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Medical Marijuana and Brain Injury

Some states already have medical marijuana laws that allow those with a medical need to get cannabis to treat the symptoms that arise after a brain injury. While this is progress, the effectiveness of cannabis immediately after an injury has been studied on mice, but not humans. The success of the recent Israeli study clears the way for human trials and possible approval for cannabis use in emergency situations.

Learning more about the beneficial uses of cannabis can help those with TBIs live better, longer more productive lives and help limit the impact their injury has on their lives. Studies like the one from Hebrew University help the medical community learn about cannabis and its benefits and take us one step closer to full legalization.

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