There is plenty of news out there about NFL players and their marijuana drama or concussion controversy. To many fans, these two topics may seem unrelated; but now more than ever, marijuana and concussions have more to do with each other than many people think. A new study is about to kick off that includes a team of neuroscience experts, brain surgeons, and otolaryngology specialists who are researching and developing a pill with the hopes of reducing the number of traumatic brain injuries. The controversial part of this is that the pill will contain cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive anti-inflammatory chemical in marijuana.
The study will determine if combining CBD and a traumatic brain injury antagonist will reduce post-injury inflammation as well as the immune response that leads to headaches and other symptoms caused by concussions. The research is expected to take about five years.
This is particularly important for the NFL if they sincerely seek to cut down on the number of concussions endured by players. 271 concussions were logged throughout the 2015 season, one of the highest numbers in recent years. Over time, players are finding themselves suffering from memory loss, depression, blurred vision, mood swings, impulse control problems, aggression, impaired judgment, and even suicidal thoughts caused by repeated concussions. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by repeated head trauma that includes all these symptoms and is only diagnosable in an autopsy, was found in 90 of 94 brains tested in 2016. While there is no definitive test done for living patients who are suspected to have CTE, 33 living players have symptoms consistent with CTE or ALS.
In this University of Miami Study, the plan will take three phases. The first two years will be spent performing pre-clinical studies on TBI rodent models. The second phase will involve administering the drug in pill form to a group of patients with traumatic brain injury, both chronic and acute. The data will then be collected to address safety concerns and side effects before the third phase, a three-year clinical trial that will determine whether or not it is an effective form of treatment for concussions. The FDA is expected to oversee the trial.
The only problem here is that even if this drug were to hit the market today, NFL players wouldn’t be allowed to take it since it will contain marijuana chemicals. As it stands, marijuana is a banned substance in the NFL with no medical exceptions. While CBD alone won’t necessarily show up on a drug test, it doesn’t mean the league will agree to administer it over the opiate drugs they’ve relied on for so long. However, the league does appear to be putting a little effort into including marijuana into its brain trauma research, and this could be a viable option with proven medicinal benefits.
NFL players are three times more likely to die of a neurodegenerative disorder than the average adult male, and four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s or ALS. If the league wants to see a change in these numbers, a study like this is exactly what it needs.