Study Summary: THC for Traumatic Brain Injury

Updated: Sep 10

An August 2022 peer-reviewed research study conducted at the University of South Florida entitled "Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury Following Treatment with Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol" that was published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research investigated the potential positive outcomes of treating traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients with delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The Study

The scientists theorized that the phytocannabinoid THC might "enhance brain repair" following a traumatic brain injury. Their hypothesis was that the infamous psychoactive cannabinoid might help TBI sufferers regain certain cognitive and brain functions, including memory and some motor functions.


"Administration of the phytocannabinoid Δ9THC will enhance brain repair following [traumatic brain injury]" by upregulating certain efficacious brain chemicals."

"Administration of the phytocannabinoid Δ9THC will enhance brain repair following [traumatic brain injury]" by upregulating certain efficacious brain chemicals," reported the preclinical study, which involved rodent (mice) subjects. The mice were treated for three days with delta-9 THC at a dose of 3 mg per kilogram of body weight.


Particular sections of the mouse brain involved in the TBI were tested, including the "cerebral cortex, striatum, and hippocampus" in the region of the TBI trauma.


Results

The mice treated with THC "recovered to normal...performance levels at two weeks," reported the scientists. They identified the mechanism behind this improvement as an increase (upregulation) of the brain proteins BDNF, G-CSF, and GDNF in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and striatum regions.

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The study reported that the rodent participants experienced "marked improvement" and that their recovery from TBI was "significant." In addition, the study revealed that the mouse subjects displayed an increase in the endocannabinoid 2-AG. 2-AG is known to bind with the CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) that are most dense in the brain and central nervous system.


The scientists concluded that "administration of the phytocannabinoid Δ9THC promotes significant recovery from TBI" due to increases in the brain proteins BDNF, G-CSF, GDNF and the endocannabinoid 2-AG.

The study's authors noted that the ECS, which is present in all mammals and, in fact, all vertebrates, is intimately involved in brain repair and the maintenance of healthy cognitive functioning. They reported that 2-AG is part of this mechanism and that levels of this important endocannabinoid increased in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and striatum regions of the brain of TBI test subjects treated with delta-9 THC.

Conclusions

"Improvement in working memory was associated with upregulation of [the brain proteins] BDNF, GDNF, and G-CSF," noted the study. "In addition, levels of the most abundant endocannabinoid produced by humans, 2-AG, were increased in the Δ9-THC-treated mice compared with controls," summarized the scientists. They concluded that "increased brain levels of 2-AG...mediate recovery of working memory and fine motor function" in rodents that have suffered a TBI.


Would the same positive outcomes be experienced by human TBI patients? Perhaps. But detailed clinical trials involving human subjects are necessary to prove this. While the endocannabinoid systems of rodents, humans, and all mammals share many characteristics, minor differences mean that medical science cannot yet declare true positive efficacy from the therapeutic treatment of TBI patients with delta-9 THC or other components of the cannabis and hemp plants.

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The scientists concluded that "administration of the phytocannabinoid Δ9THC promotes significant recovery from TBI" due to increased volumes of the brain proteins BDNF, G-CSF, and GDNF and the endocannabinoid 2-AG.


Treatment with delta-9 THC and the resulting increase in multiple brain proteins and 2-AG was shown to "mediate brain self-repair following TBI and stroke."

Treatment with delta-9 THC and the resulting increase in multiple brain proteins and 2-AG was shown to "mediate brain self-repair following TBI and stroke." The researchers stressed the need for additional studies, with a focus on clinical trials involving humans.


Many TBI patient-activists have provided anecdotal testimonies claiming that the effects of inhaled and eaten cannabis and—more precisely—delta-9 THC have aided them in their recovery and the management of their TBI symptoms (including headaches and "brain fog"). One of the most powerful such testimonies is available in our exclusive The Higher Learning LV Interview featuring Nikki Lawley.


View the original study.


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