Cannabis and Concussions: Is Weed Safe After a Brain Injury?
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After a concussion, there are a lot of dos and don’ts to follow: Do get plenty of rest. Don’t drive. Do manage your stress levels. Don’t drink alcohol. But what about cannabis use? Do weed and concussions mix?
Research suggests that it may be safe to use cannabis after a mild concussion, but there are some concerns that marijuana use may exacerbate or prolong concussion symptoms. Ultimately, it’s wise to speak with your healthcare provider before consuming cannabis after a concussion.
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What Are the Signs of a Concussion?
Concussions are caused by an external head trauma that damages the brain and are a common type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Other examples of TBIs include intracranial hematomas, skull fractures, and brain contusions.
Concussions can happen when there’s a sudden jolt to the head or body. Anything that causes the brain to rapidly reverberate in the skull can result in a concussion. Like any TBI, concussions can trigger chemical changes and damage delicate brain tissue.
Common symptoms of concussions include:
- Headaches or feeling pressure in the head
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor balance
- Blurry vision
- Concentration or memory problems
- Sensitivity to light or noise
Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to months. People who’ve experienced multiple head injuries are prone to what’s called post-concussion syndrome. A hallmark of this condition is concussion symptoms last longer than expected after an injury.
Individuals with post-concussion syndrome may experience headaches, dizziness, and memory or concentration problems for weeks to months.
Can You Smoke Weed With a Concussion?
Research tells us that a growing number of individuals are choosing to self-medicate with cannabis. People use it to help with things like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and pain management.
While there are no studies yet specifically investigating the effects of smoking weed on concussions, a handful of others explore the general effects of medical marijuana on individuals with traumatic brain injuries and offer insight into the general safety of cannabis.
One small study examining individuals with concussions observed that 14% used cannabis for four weeks after their injury. While weed use didn’t seem to speed up recovery, researchers found it did appear to reduce the severity of concussion symptoms.
A larger study compared the mortality rates of individuals who used cannabis at the time of their traumatic brain injury and found that the presence of marijuana did not increase the likelihood of death.
While these studies suggest that cannabis doesn’t appear to negatively impact concussions, experts acknowledge that more evidence is needed to understand the effects of specific cannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, and delivery methods on concussion patients.
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Does Cannabis Have Potential Benefits for Concussions?
Many individuals who have suffered a concussion or post-concussion syndrome turn to medical marijuana to help manage their symptoms.
A review on cannabis and brain injuries found that of 2,000 patients with a traumatic brain injury, a large percentage utilized cannabis to relieve symptoms like pain, headache, depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.
Pre-clinical TBI research suggests that some cannabinoids have therapeutic properties uniquely suited to treating TBI symptoms. In particular, there’s special interest in the neuroprotective qualities of CBD.
Studies have found CBD may be able to boost cognition, help form new brain cells, improve blood flow in the brain, and reduce brain inflammation. Other cannabinoids and terpenes — such as cannabigerol (CBG), pinene, and beta-caryophyllene — are also being investigated for their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.
In addition, human research studies have documented the benefits of cannabis use for mild traumatic brain injuries. One study found roughly 83% of patients with concussion-related symptoms saw improvements in mood, 76% experienced better sleep, and 76% had reduced headaches after using medical marijuana.
Another study reported that individuals using medical marijuana for mild TBIs experienced improvements in sleep, headache, mood, and overall quality of life. Among those taking opioids to treat TBIs, 38% either decreased or discontinued the medication. These findings are consistent with other studies that link medical cannabis to a decreased reliance on opioids and other prescription medications.
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The Bottom Line
Researchers still underscore the need for more robust research regarding cannabis use and concussions.
However, retrospective studies and anecdotal evidence suggest people with a mild traumatic brain injury or post-concussion syndrome may find weed helps with pain management and eases symptoms like sleeplessness and anxiety.
Of the limited data available at present, cannabis also appears to be safe to use following a mild traumatic brain injury. But, again, to be safe, you should talk to your doctor or another knowledgeable medical professional before using weed following a concussion.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What should you not do after a concussion?
After any type of brain trauma, it is essential to avoid any physical activity that could result in further damage to brain cells. It’s also a good idea to eliminate screen time and steer clear of driving until you’ve fully recovered.
Is weed good for a head injury?
Anecdotal evidence tells us that cannabis may help with pain management and ease the symptoms associated with TBIs. However, there’s still a lack of robust clinical data to corroborate this evidence.
Can I smoke cigarettes after a concussion?
According to one study, cigarette use after a concussion may intensify the severity of symptoms. However, there’s no evidence to suggest that smoking cigarettes will negatively impact the recovery time from a concussion.