Can Marijuana Use Reduce Mortality from Traumatic Brain Injuries?

Hands rolling a jointEvery year, more than 2 million people experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the Centers for Disease Control. These injuries, which result from a blow to the head, can lead to serious health problems, changes in personality, temporary or permanent disability, and even death. According to a study authored by a group of Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute researchers, though, TBI patients who use marijuana are less likely to die from TBI.

Reduced TBI-Related Death among Marijuana Users

To evaluate the effects of marijuana on people with traumatic brain injuries, researchers surveyed 446 people with TBIs. They excluded people under the age of 15 and those whose injuries were considered unsurvivable. Study participants underwent a urine screening for THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Eighty-two people—about 18% of participants—tested positive for THC. Only 2.4% of these people died, compared to 11.5% of non-marijuana users. The study’s authors note that the severity of injuries was similar between the two groups.

Could THC Protect the Brain?

The study’s authors note that previous research has shown that marijuana can help TBI patients by increasing appetite, reducing muscle spasms, and providing pain relief. While many people are familiar with these effects, the idea that marijuana could prevent death from a brain injury might seem strange. Previous research, however, has shown that cannabis may protect the brain from an assortment of injuries.

A 2013 study of rats exposed to both THC and brain trauma also found benefits. In that study, rats exposed to THC did better on memory tests—even after a brain injury—than rats not exposed to THC. Researchers also found that rats exposed to THC had increased quantities of protective chemicals in their brains. This led them to conclude that THC might offer neuroprotective benefits against future brain injuries.

While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and in most states, 23 states have fully or partially legalized medical marijuana.


  1. Nguyen, B. M., Kim, D., Bricker, S., Bongard, F., Neville, A., Putnam, B., … Plurad, D. (2014). Effect of marijuana use on outcomes in traumatic brain injury. American Surgeon, 979-983. Retrieved from
  2. State medical marijuana laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. THC may protect the brain from damage. (2013, June 7). Retrieved from

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  • Reese


    October 8th, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    so then you get to the question over whether the benefits outweigh the risks

  • Collin


    October 8th, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    I am not arguing that there is no validity to this study because obviously there is or it wouldn’t be included here, but I think that you have to increase the sample sizes to be able to get a more trye and accurate picture of what THC can actually do in the face of traumatic brain injuries. I alos wonder how much THC has to be in the system in order for this to hold true and whether this has to be something that is cumulative or a one time thing that could produce such results. I just think that there are probably still a whole lot of questions that need to be answered before a rush to judgement is made- thanks

  • marjorie


    October 9th, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    This is not the right messgae to send because let’s say that this does protect the brain. But who is to say that overuse isn’t what caused you to have the accident that led to the brain injury in the frost place? I know that there are a lot of different ways that you can approach this, but let’s at least be reasonable and look at it from all perspectives.

  • tbi rich

    tbi rich

    October 10th, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    I suffered tbi in April of this year. My life would be hell without thc. It is a night and day improvement. To all those that say differently, have you had tbi? An overwhelming darkness is the best description I can come up right right now. FWIW, I’ve tried to stop ALL medications, including mj. It was a DRAMATIC decline. I then started taking meds to see how each affected me, and thc was by far the front runner.

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