Cannabis and the Brain: Myth vs. Fact

January 7, 2017

A common misconception you may hear from critics of medical cannabis is that its use injures the brain. The notion that “marijuana kills brain cells” is a decades-old myth that still persists among some who haven’t had a chance to study the subject scientifically. The fascinating truth, ironically enough, is that cannabis can actually protect the brain from trauma and may offer a promising intervention for treating serious brain injuries:

While effective therapies to treat ongoing TBI symptoms have been difficult to come by, thanks to researchers like Prof. Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University, we’ve discovered that cannabis may prevent long-term brain damage by administering THC before or shortly after the injury. In fact, Israel Defense Force (IDF) practitioners administer CBD or low-dose THC as a first-line treatment to IDF soldiers – and even enemy combatants – who suffer brain trauma.

Sarne and his team published their results in 2013, where they demonstrated that administering just a fraction of the amount of THC that would be found in a typical cannabis joint anywhere from one to seven days prior to, or one to three days after an injury, induces the biochemical processes necessary to protect critical brain cells while preserving long-term cognitive function. [Leafly]

This discovery may come as a shock to those who believe cannabis damages the brain, but it’s very promising news for the treatment of these extremely serious injuries. Leafly reports that traumatic brain injuries result in over 50,000 deaths in the U.S. every year and an even greater number of severe disabilities. The possibility that cannabis can provide an important immediate treatment for trauma victims is remarkable indeed.

Discussion surrounding medical marijuana frequently focuses on symptom relief and the role of cannabis medicines in improving quality of life for those suffering from serious illnesses. The possibility that cannabis can perform a protective role in cases of traumatic injury could lead to a new category of medicines used for emergency response rather than just ongoing treatment.

For those of us following cannabis science closely, this research is another reminder that the study of medical marijuana never ceases to yield encouraging and sometimes profoundly important discoveries. What we know today about this medicine’s benefits for patients in need might only scratch the surface of the plant’s importance in future medical applications and we’ll certainly stay tuned as the conversation continues.