Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on June 16, 2021

Contrary to popular belief, concussions aren’t rare occurrences, and in fact, happen more commonly than people know. While most patients make a full recovery, they can cause both short-term and long-term effects, which is why education about concussions is important.

In recent years, there have been debates about whether medical cannabis can be used to treat the symptoms of concussions. There is some evidence that the cannabinoids present in marijuana can have beneficial effects due to their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, therefore, it’s something worth discussing.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of concussions and give you an insight into what some recent studies have discovered about medical marijuana use as a possibly effective treatment.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is usually defined as a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that affects the functioning of the brain. Most often, the effects are temporary and can manifest as headaches, memory and concentration issues, as well as problems with coordination and balance.

Concussions occur after head trauma, like a blow or a sudden and rapid back-and-forth movement of your head that causes the brain to also move or bounce quickly. This causes chemical changes in the brain cells which interfere with normal brain function. 

The most common causes of concussions are a blow to the head caused by contact sports, a fall, car accidents, or another type of blow to the head. Even though concussions aren’t considered life-threatening, sometimes they can be serious (and need to get treated).

Concussion Symptoms and Its Effects

The symptoms of a concussion may show immediately after the head injury and can take a while to develop – a few days or even weeks, in some cases. Their severity will also vary depending on the gravity of the injury. Sometimes, concussions can also cause a loss of consciousness, but this isn’t the case with every injury.

The symptoms include:

  • Feeling dizzy and nauseous
  • Feeling drowsy
  • Headaches
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seeing blurry or double
  • Trouble speaking
  • Amnesia
  • Problems with keeping balance

In most cases, the symptoms resolve themselves with time, but in more severe cases of brain trauma, they can persist for weeks and even months, also called post-concussion syndrome. The most common symptoms involve difficulties with memory and concentration, headaches, and dizziness.

What Does the Usual Treatment Involve?

The treatment highly depends on the individual’s case, the severity of the injury, and the symptoms. The more serious cases may have bleeding or swelling in the brain which may require more serious medical attention and procedures. 

Most cases, though, usually resolve themselves with time, and only the symptoms are treated accordingly. For example, for headaches, your doctor may give you OTC analgesics. Additional treatment approaches involve extensive rest and no sports, as well as avoiding driving a car or riding a bike for a while until you recover.

How Can Cannabis Help With a Concussion?

Marijuana’s unique properties make it a solid candidate to treat the symptoms of concussions and help the brain with the healing process. The most studied cannabinoids found in weed, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), interact with the endocannabinoid system in the human body by binding to its cannabinoid receptors. In this way, they can influence the body and the function of the brain.

A 2018 review of literature on the neurological benefits of CBD and THC has focused on the neuroprotective benefits of cannabinoids, CBD, in particular. They have concluded that “current research indicates the phytocannabinoids have a powerful therapeutic potential in a variety of ailments primarily through their interaction with the ECS. CBD is of particular interest due to its wide-ranging capabilities and lack of side effects in a variety of neurological conditions and diseases.

What Studies Have Found

One larger study conducted by the DENT Neurologic Institute has found that cannabis can help treat some of the most common concussion symptoms – insomnia, chronic pain, and irritability. They examined 142 individuals who had concussion symptoms in one form or another. They were given low doses of medical marijuana through various administration methods, like vape pens and cannabis tinctures.

The results were pretty interesting. Over 80% of the participants reported improvement of their symptoms. The most notable improvements were in symptoms related to mood, pain, and sleep. For each of these symptoms, about 60% (more or less) of the individuals reported moderate improvement, while 20% reported significant improvement.

Two other studies reveal similar results – one of them concluded that smoking small doses of cannabis can improve acute or chronic pain, mood, as well as sleep, while the other one suggests that cannabis may be helpful for headaches.

CBD Shows Promise

The two main active cannabinoids are both beneficial in their own way, but they’re not created equal. THC has psychoactive effects and causes the phenomenon known as “the high.” CBD, on the other hand, is non-intoxicating and has milder effects. CBD is also more commonly used as medical marijuana due to its anti-inflammatory effects and higher tolerance with little to no side effects.

CBD to THC Ratio Is Important

The DENT study we talked about above has found that cannabis vape pens with higher CBD and lower THC content were beneficial for quick headache relief. Additionally, oral tinctures with equal amounts of CBD and THC were also observed to be helpful for headaches as well as minimizing or preventing long-term symptoms. Ratios with higher THC and lower CBD were more beneficial for more severe headaches. (McVige et al, 2018)

Bottom Line – Can Smoking Weed Help With Concussions?

Obviously, a concussion can be a serious condition, even though in most cases the symptoms resolve themselves with time. Cannabis seems like a good treatment option for medical use due to its health benefits. However, so far, Illinois is the only state where post-concussion syndrome and traumatic brain injury are included in their list of qualifying symptoms for acquiring a medical marijuana card.

Marijuana strains high in CBD seem to be the most fitting treatment option. But then, as research is still in its infancy, if you’re considering using marijuana for the treatment of concussion symptoms, it’s best to consult with a medical professional beforehand.

Additional Resources

Grenier, K., Ponnambalam, F., Lee, D., Lauwers, R., & Bhalerao, S. (2020). Cannabis in the Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury: A Primer for Clinicians. Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences / Journal Canadien Des Sciences Neurologiques, 47(1), 11-17. doi:10.1017/cjn.2019.298

Mcvige, J., Bargnes, V. H., Shukri, S., & Mechtler, L. (2018). Cannabis, concussion, and chronic pain: An ongoing retrospective analysis at Dent Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, NY. Neurology, 91(23 Supplement 1). doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000550692.23055.1f

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