Does Weed Protect the Human Brain from Traumatic Injury?

But if you hadn't been stoned, would you have crashed your car in the first place?
But if you hadn't been stoned, would you have crashed your car in the first place?
Flickr user: perthhdproductions

A new study from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance shows that people who had THC in their systems at the time that they suffered a traumatic brain injury were significantly more likely to survive the trauma.

One of the study’s authors, surgeon Brian Nguyen, says that the results show yet again that the federal government should loosen the rules that restrict scientists and doctors from studying the effects of cannabis.

“There are medical benefits to marijuana that aren’t as robustly studied,” he says. “Further research needs to be done on this controversial compound.”

Nguyen and his coauthors reviewed records of 446 patients who sustained traumatic brain injuries and who were subsequently drug-tested in the surgical ICU at Harbor-UCLA between 2010 and 2012.

They found that of the 82 brain-injured patients who had tested positive for THC, 2.4 percent died. But 11.5 percent of the patients without THC in their systems died.

There were other factors: Patients whose urine tested positive for marijuana were more likely to be younger, male and drunk.

Because urinary drug tests are notoriously unable to tell the difference between a stoned subject and a chronic pot smoker with THC lingering in his system, Nguyen and his team could not determine how much time elapsed between the subjects' use of weed and their traumatic head injury incident.

“Clearly we’re not suggesting that everybody just get high and drive,” Nguyen says.

Previous studies showed that weed has a similar effect on rats. Nguyen says that this is the first study to show that cannabis may somehow lessen the consequences of head injuries in humans. The study was published this month in The American Surgeon.

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One thing likely to be explored in future studies: If you weren’t stoned, would you have suffered a serious accident? 

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