Study Links Marijuana Use to Lower Mortality Rate among Patients With Traumatic Brain Injuries

First Posted: Oct 04, 2014 04:31 AM EDT

Researchers found that patients with traumatic brain injuries using marijuana were more likely to survive.

The study, led by researchers at Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute, surveyed emergency patients for levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an active ingredient present in marijuana. They found that those tested positive for THC had a lower mortality compared to people who tested negative for the illicit substance.

According to the researchers THC plays a key role in protecting the brain in case of a traumatic brain injury.

The researchers looked at 446 patients with a traumatic brain injury. Urine samples were collected to test the presence of THC in their body. It was observed that 82 of the total patients had THC in their system and out of these 2.4 percent patients had died compared to 11.5 percent deaths of patients who had tested negative for the illicit substance.

"Previous studies conducted by other researchers had found certain compounds in marijuana helped protect the brain in animals after a trauma," said David Plurad, MD, 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."

Recently marijuana's popularity has increased and some states have legalized the substance either for medical or recreational use. The primary reason for a physician to recommend medical marijuana is pain. The timing of the latest study is 'pertinent' due to present efforts made to legalize marijuana.

Other researchers conducted have highlighted how THC helps boosts appetite, lowers ocular pressure, reduces muscle spasms, relieves pain and alleviates symptoms linked with irritable bowel disease. However, this new study has certain 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," Dr. Plurad said. "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."

The finding is published in the edition of The American Surgeon.

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