Football Concussions and the Brain-Saving Effects of Cannabis

© intheskies - Fotolia.com

© intheskies – Fotolia.com

The prevalence of brain injuries associated with football are becoming increasingly clear. More than anyone suspected, banging heads together in football causes mild (and not so mild) traumatic brain injuries( mTBI). New findings and the plights of many former players may fundamentally change the game of American football, from the NFL all the way down through college and high school to Pop Warner. The latter kid’s league is suffers declining participation as parents fear damage to their children’s brains.

During the same time period that the the severity of brain-damaging injuries suffered by football players was becoming clear, research in Israel and Spain began to show that the human brain is protected from TBI by the cannabinoids in cannabis.

It may well turn out to be that the best on-field treatment of a suspected concussion will be taking “hits” of vaporized cannabinoids, right from medical cannabis. Even now, portable vaporizers can be ready to provide a controlled dosage of cannabinoids within a few seconds.

At the same time, new helmets with  accelerometers for measuring impact force and gyrometers for measuring twist will help in the immediate assessment of possible concussion after a violent tackle or block. Perhaps LED lights will read out G force readings right on the helmet’s surface, allowing fellow players, coach, and trainer to spot potential dangers.

Imagine this scenario in the not-too-far future: At a home game in Seattle or Denver or other state with medical marijuana exemption to tyrannical federal marijuana laws, the home team quarterback sets his squad on a crucial third down. Unfortunately for him, he was swallowed in a pass rush; worse yet when he was floored by a 300 pound left tackle, his helmet smashed into that of another tackler at a high rate of force. He lay stunned, not quite sure why to get up. Coach and team physician approach at a jog alarmed to see the red glow from the helmet LED declaring a probably concussion. As the physician reads the G force readings from the collision, she clicks on the portable vaporizer. She asks the player a few questions, at which he performs badly. He can state his name but is unsure of the date, even the year. This, along with the red light concussion warning and the dangerously high deceleration ‘G’ rating, convinces her to act immediately, bringing the vaporizer to the injured player’s lips and telling him, “breathe in this medicine.”

As the brain-traumatized player inhales cannabinoids into his lungs, they quickly make it to his heart and fountain up to his brain. Within seconds the cannabinoids THC, CBD and others cross the blood-brain-barrier in his brain and begin their neuroprotective functions. In the injured brain, neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate, are overproduced in a frenzy that damages neurons. Inflammatory processes produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), dangling electrons that wound cell walls and DNA. In this unlikely scenario, total time from traumatic brain injury, to diagnosis, to treatment molecules reaching the site of injury was perhaps one minute. This may also be a future protocol in case of stroke, another source of traumatic brain injury.

In the brain these cannabinoids dampen down the frenzied, brain-damaging transmitters. Cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, reduce production of the transmitter glutamate. Cannabinoids also serve as antioxidants to sop up the dangerous ROS oxidants. They calm the brain and reduce inflammation.

In moves it looks like the NFL might actually do, the league should end any restriction for players using cannabis. Not only is it good for their battered brains but also offers the safest medication for several types of pain, including neuropathic pain. There is actually more justification for making cannabis use by NFL players mandatory than there good reasons for its prohibition. Strict enforcement of rules penalizing wounding play actions such as ‘helmeting’ will also help.

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