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Trauma Patients with Marijuana Use History More Likely to Survive, Study Finds

Data shows that trauma patients who test positive for marijuana upon hospital admission are less likely to die during hospitalization.

Trauma patients who have recently used cannabis are less likely to die while in the hospital than age-matched non-users, according to a new study published in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. Researchers from the University of Arizona examined in-hospital mortality rates of 2,678 adults in the intensive care unit over the course of five years. They found that patients who tested positive for cannabis upon admission were significantly less likely to pass away.

“Patients with a positive marijuana screen had a lower mortality rate (5.3 percent versus 8.9 percent) compared to patients with a negative marijuana screen,” the researchers wrote in the study.

In a sub analysis of the study that investigated trauma patients that had received mechanical ventilation, “marijuana positive had a higher number of ventilator days (2d vs. 1d, p=0.02) and a lower mortality rate (7.3% vs. 16.1%, p<0.001) than those who were marijuana negative.”

The study’s findings align with those of previous studies. In 2014, researchers found a history of marijuana use to be associated with significantly greater survival rates in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). The compounds found in cannabis — cannabinoids — have been found to possess neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the neural damage associated with trauma. These properties have also shown to be beneficial following ischemic events. In one study, cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, significantly reduced cell death, oxidative stress, inflammation, and fibrosis, and preserved the performance of the left ventricle of the heart when administered shortly prior to a heart attack. Another found that administering CBD before or after a stroke caused potent and long-lasting neuroprotection.

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The University of Arizona study involved data from 1,339 trauma patients with a positive cannabis test, and 1,339 trauma patients with negative cannabis test results. The 5-year analysis used data between the years of 2008-2012. The researchers excluded patients who had tested positive for alcohol or other substances besides cannabis, and controlled for age, injury severity score, and Glasgow-Coma-Scale.

The analysis found no significant difference between the two groups in hospital or intensive care unit lengths of stay. Data showed that 55.3 percent of marijuana positive and 32 percent of marijuana negative trauma patients received mechanical ventilation during their hospital stay.

The researchers called for more related research that would examine the potential extended trauma outcome benefits of cannabis use.

“Prospective studies with long-term follow up will be useful in answering many of the remaining questions surrounding the specific impact of marijuana on outcomes after trauma.”

The full study, “How does marijuana effect outcomes after trauma in ICU patients? A propensity matched analysis,” is available to access through The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.

You can learn more about the research on cannabis’s potential benefits for traumatic brain injuries and ischemic events like heart attack and stroke by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related study through our news feed.