Cannabis Use Linked to Lower Death Rates for Traumatic Brain Injury Patients

A new study associated the use of cannabis with lower death rates among patients with traumatic brain injuries.

A group of researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) recently reported results from a survey of patients with traumatic brain injuries, finding that those who tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, were more likely to survive than those who tested negative for the substance.

The findings were published in the October edition of The American Surgeon. According to the researchers, the findings suggest that THC may help protect the brain in cases of traumatic brain injury.

The study included 446 patients who suffered traumatic brain injuries. The researchers collected urine samples to test the presence of THC in their system. Among the participants, 82 of the patients had THC in their system. Of the 82 with THC in their body, 2.4 percent died compared to 11.5 percent who did not have THC in their system.

“Previous studies conducted by other researcher had found certain compounds in marijuana helped protect the brain in animals after a trauma,” said David Plurad, an LA BioMed researcher and the study’s lead author. “This study was one of the first in a clinical setting to specifically associate THC use as an independent predictor of survival after traumatic brain injury.”

According to the researchers, the timing of their study was “pertinent” due to current efforts to decriminalize the substance for either medical or recreational use. Other research has shown that THC can increase appetite, reduce ocular pressure, decrease muscle spasms, relieve pain and alleviate symptoms associated with irritable bowel disease. The authors did note that their study has some significant limitations.

“While most – but not all – the deaths in the study can be attributed to the traumatic brain injury itself, it appears that both groups were similarly injured,” said Plurad. “The similarities in the injuries between the two groups led to the conclusion that testing positive for THC in the system is associated with a decreased mortality in adult patients who have sustained traumatic brain injuries.”

(October 7, 2014 by Nicole Watkins)

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