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Cannabis and the NFL (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy - CTE)

Dear Nurse Susan,

I am a huge football fan, from high school football, all the way to the NFL. I’d watch football 24/7 if I could! The Super Bowl is this weekend and I cringe every time one of those NFL players bangs his head. I’ve been hearing more and more about CTE and how devastating it is to football players, boxers and hockey players. Is medical marijuana really helpful for that? I saw in the news a while back that retired NFL player Marvin Washington is suing attorney general Jeff Session over marijuana! That’s bold!

Huge NFL Fan

Dear NFL Fan,

I know exactly what you mean; it hurts to watch (and hear) when a player lands on his head or careens with another player. My heart stops when they get knocked unconscious, because I know all that is happening in their brains, and its not pretty. When we watch football, its easy to think that that is the only time players suffer head injuries or concussions. We don’t think about all the practices when they are also experiencing repeated head injury. These videos convey the ongoing, repetitive nature of the injuries that lead to CTE.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBrTFPzzcrE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r51aLlwS7w4

To illustrate how helpful cannabis is for brain injury, let me first explain what is happening in the brain during trauma. Under normal circumstances, the brain is bathed in cerebral spinal fluid that helps to protect the brain and regulate the pressure inside the skull. During impact, the brain bounces off the inside of the skull and then flings in the opposite direction and bounces off the opposite side of the skull, also known as coup-contracoup. That force causes bruising of the brain at the points of impact and shearing of the nerve cells throughout the brain. This can lead to brain swelling, cell death, increased pressure inside the skull, and brain herniation. Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBLYs-pDaQY

Basically, the compounds in cannabis are neuroprotective, meaning they protect nerves from a variety of insults such as neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MS, Lou Gehrig’s disease etc.), damage from the lack of blood/oxygen to the brain (stroke, near-drowning and drug overdose) and traumatic brain injury (CTE, car accident, etc.). The compounds in cannabis are also neurogenerative, meaning they stimulate new nerve cell growth, and anti-inflammatory; all important processes that protect the brain and facilitate healing.

For all you medical nerds out there interested in the scientific literature on the use of cannabis compounds following brain injury, here are a couple of my favorites:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27889412

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28261100

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an NFL player sustaining a concussion during a game? Watch this…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dcs9RS7Hi0

It’s important to note that when it comes to any of these brain injuries, there really aren’t any pharmaceutical drugs that protect, regenerate and reduce brain swelling; particularly without toxic or lethal side effects. For example, a common course of treatment following brain injury is the use of corticosteroids, i.e. Decadron, to reduce brain swelling. There is a list of 45 adverse effects associated with Decadron including potential rupture of the heart, psychosis, peptic ulcer, seizure, pulmonary edema, etc.  Yikes!

Every year, almost 2 million people suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI) which accounts for about 30% of all injury-related deaths. Those that survive TBI suffer from headaches, mood swings, depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts, memory loss, seizure disorder, attention deficits, extremity weakness, impaired coordination and balance, impaired hearing and vision, personality changes, impulse control, and more.

On a more personal note, and perhaps too much information, but I have given my husband instructions, if I have a brain injury, to pump me full of whole-plant cannabis extracts. If I am comatose or unable to take it by mouth, he promised to give it to me via suppository (TMI?). Anyway, I always try to weigh the risks and benefits of any medical treatment, and given cannabis’s low toxicity, and that it also helps manage the ongoing consequences of TBI by reducing pain and inflammation, depression and anxiety, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, etc., I’d say it’s a no-brainer! (Excuse the pun).

Listen to what retired NFL players say about the use of cannabis, in lieu of pharmaceutical drugs that are passed around like candy to the players.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6ZdoQuHh5k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q-iN8LZ7Yo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkRc1YWDw6E

I first met Eben Britton at the CannMed Conference at Harvard University Medical Center. This annual medical conference brings together medical researchers and clinicians from around the world to share their latest findings on medicinal cannabis. He was part of a panel of retired NFL players (Nate Jackson, Lance Johnstone, Ricky Williams) who are advocating for the NFL to revise their policies on the use of cannabis. I was so impressed with this group of warrior athletes who were crisscrossing the country to help the players that are currently in the game. Remember, the NFL policies have no impact on them now that they are retired, but they are so passionate about how this plant has helped them with the issues faced by players today, that they spend their time and money educating people.

Finally, have you ever wondered why we think man can create products that are better for us than what Mother Nature provides? Clearly the pharmaceutical companies benefit from this concept. I believe if the cannabis plant was discovered today and did not have an 80-year history of misinformation and stigma, the entire world would celebrate our good fortune. Isn’t it worth considering?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg71_zcWsHQ

So Huge NFL Fan, I hope this information is helpful to you and everyone involved in contact sports. I couldn’t throw a football if my life depended on it, but I’m glad to know this information about one of the many therapeutic effects of cannabis that can help football players.

Hope your team won the Super Bowl!

Nurse Susan

p.s. Here are a few links related to athletes and organizations that are addressing the issue of how cannabis can help with sports injuries, pain, etc.

Athletes for Care is an organization of over forty professionals from various sports, united to provide support, information and care for athletes with injuries.

Our mission is to be on the forefront of medical research and development as it relates to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Through research, treatment and education, change the NFL policy as it relates to medical cannabis. We will pursue treatment protocol with a greater focus on holistic medicines over pharmaceutical drugs.

Sue Sisley, MD, Nate Jackson, and Eben Britton: Cannabis: Banned Drug or Medical Treatment for Sports Injuries? Presentation at 2017 “Patients Out of Time” medical cannabis conference.

(Susan Marks RN, BSN, PHN is a medical cannabis educator and consultant based in Los Angeles. You can contact her at hello@dearnursesusan.com

-cw

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