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The Relationship Between Cannabis and Cerebrovascular Accidents or Strokes

Natasha Winkler

by Natasha Winkler

July 22, 2020 02:43 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes
The Relationship Between Cannabis and Cerebrovascular Accidents or Strokes

The data is all over the place. Even though cannabis legalization is sweeping the globe, medical findings continue to contradict in many circumstances. When it comes to cannabis and brain function, the data isn’t vast enough to really know how cannabis use affects everyone. Because there can be such variance in cannabinoid response from person to person and with US research significantly impeded – we are left sometimes to ironic hypocrisy. It is important to note who is behind a study and if they had bias before or during data collection/review.

Cannabis Can Protect the Brain From Damage 

There are several studies that have provided evidence that cannabis may help treat cerebrovascular accidents or strokes. A study published in 1998 tested the effects of cannabis on rats who suffered strokes. The study concluded that  “cannabinoids block a neurochemical, known as glutamate, that leads to the formation of toxic oxidizing molecules that kill brain cells.” By blocking glutamate in the brain, the cannabinoids help prevent further brain damage and help preserve the brain’s ability to remain functional.

Another study published in 2012 garnered similar results. It revealed that the natural anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis are useful in treating brain inflammation caused by a stroke. While slightly different, both of these studies provide a glimpse into how cannabis can help relieve stroke symptoms.

your brain on cannabis gif

Will Cannabis Increase the Risk of Cerebrovascular Accidents and Strokes?

On the other end of the spectrum we have seen an analysis adjusted for age, sex, and ethnicity, cannabis use was associated with an increased risk of certain types of strokes. Researchers in 2019 were stating that data showed up to 2.5 times increased risk for stroke for habitual cannabis users. However, after adjusting for tobacco use, an association independent of tobacco could not be established.

Recently a team looked at data from 9,350 patients that were admitted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center between 2015 and 2017. They further adjusted the research to include other variables like age, high blood pressure, and cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and smoking but found no correlation between recent cannabis use and an increased risk of stroke.

The Conundrum

Many of these studies were observational and do not establish a direct cause-and-effect link between cannabis use and increased risk for cerebrovascular accidents. Despite the media running with the story of cannabis-emergency due to stroke risk, the studies often emphasize a causal relationship rather than direct cause and effect. By choosing to review certain data sets the outcome can change. In addition, none of these data sets account for the type and method of cannabis consumption.

Moving Forward

While we can agree on the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis use in the US and globally and in some areas, the rising popularity of its use culminate the need to understand the benefits and risks of using cannabis. The problem is that US research is so far behind due to the federal illegality of cannabis and the poor quality of legally available research cannabis. In addition, the more we are finding out about cannabis, it seems that the positives are strongly outweighing the unsubstantiated, potential, non-causational risks.

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