Can Cannabis Help with Traumatic Brain Injury in Football Players?

It was at the 2017 Patients Out of Time conference in Berkeley, CA when I heard an NFL football player say, “We should have cannabis right there on the field with us.”  He said this while we watched videos of him being repeatedly tackled, at times needing to be helped off the field because he was so disoriented by the head trauma that goes with his sport.

Brain damage in football players is front and center in the news these days. As a recent study published in the medical journal JAMA found, these players have an astounding incidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) that leads to further complications, some severe enough to ruin lives and families. Even with helmets, the brain gets damaged by pro-football plays. “A team of investigators from multiple institutions in Boston, Massachusetts, and Stanford, California, analyzed the brains of 202 football players and found that CTE was neuropathologically diagnosed in 87% of the entire cohort, including 110 (99%) of the 111 National Football League (NFL) players.”

What is CTE? When the brain is injured, the amino acid glutamate is released in uncontrolled, excessive amounts. This excess leads to a build-up of calcium ions inside brain cells, which leads to cell death. If the release of glutamate cannot be decreased, the neurons are destroyed by this process which is termed ‘excitotoxicity.’

Cannabis is a valuable ally in preventing brain injury. CBD and THC both decrease the release of glutamate, thus sparing the neurons from excitotoxicity and cell death. This is a well-known fact. Federal Patent # US 6,630,507 B1 was issued in October of 2003 patenting cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.

If football players had access to appropriate cannabinoids immediately after head traumas, before the excess glutamate has a chance to overload the neurons with calcium, many of the CTE problems and their sequalae could possibly be avoided.


Sources:

Hampson AJ1, et al, Cannabidiol and (-)Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol are neuroprotective antioxidants. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 Jul 7;95(14):8268-73.