“Concussion” Is Teachable Moment For Cannabis And Brain Trauma

Will Smith - Concussion

Will Smith – Concussion

Cannabis reduces traumatic brain injury!

Far too few know this benefit of medical marijuana use and treatment. The general public, the NFL, and coaches across the country may soon get that opportunity.

The SONY movie, “Concussion,” examining brain trauma in the NFL, presents a unique opportunity to educate about benefits of cannabis for traumatic brain injury. Will Smith plays a forensic pathologist who discovers the chilling extent of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL players, setting them up for depression, dementia, and early death.

The Christmas 2015 movie has already elevated the issue of traumatic brain injury to the public and NFL players. Although the movie does not address how cannabis can minimize brain injuries, the time will be ripe for such education.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon may be the best educator on this timely issue.

This a retired Harvard psychiatrist and pioneering authority on marijuana’s medical benefits has already specifically addressed the issue of CTE in the NFL, when he petitioned  the organization to fund research into cannabis and brain trauma. Dr. Grinspoon has been educating on the positive health effects of cannabis for decades, since it helped his son with cancer in the 1970s. He has written a dozen books, several on medical marijuana, calling it The Forbidden Medicine.”  He has editorialized in The New York Times that marijuana is a “wonder drug“, where he lists the truly wondrous medical benefits provided, including relief from neuropathic pain. He writes:

If marijuana were a new discovery rather than a well-known substance carrying cultural and political baggage, it would be hailed as a wonder drug.

 

Cannabis and Brain Injury

Head injury and traumatic brain accident. Fotolia

Head injury and traumatic brain accident. Fotolia

Much of the research showing the protective effects of cannabinoids against traumatic brain injury comes from Israel. Studies reported in 2013 in this small, high-tech country showed that THC and similar cannabinoids can reduce injury both before and after trauma.

Irony alert: This research showing the brain-protective benefits was done at the Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases. Sheldon Adelson, that is, the American right-wing gambling billionaire and major benefactor to Israel. Ironically, he put several million dollars into a 2014 Florida campaign to PREVENT medical marijuana in that state. With the help of his money, Floridians were denied the benefits of medical cannabis, such as reducing brain injury and dementia, discovered in his own center! WTF?

Other Israeli researchers concentrated on 2-AG, the human body’s own cannabinoid molecule, along with anandamide, that fits lock-and-key into the same receptors activated by plant cannabinoid in marijuana. They discuss how cannabinoids work on the biological and molecular levels to reduce traumatic brain injury (TBI) and with it minimize the disabling disease CTE. The brain trauma of a concussive hit does not all take place and finish with the hit. In the hours following, inflammation is a destructive factor, caused in part by cytokines, cell messengers, such as the dangerous TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-1beta. 2-AG also reduces blood brain barrier (BBB) permeability, another neuroprotective effect.

More ways cannabinoids reduce traumatic brain injury.

Head trauma, such as a massive acceleration/deceleration of a head during helmet to pad collision, common in NFL football, begins a lengthy neurological response process, often inflicting more harm to the brain. This response is primarily inflammatory. For a specific site, even the whole brain, the culprit is “excitotoxicity, the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate and similar substances.” This neurotransmitter overload degrades and kills brain cells, and they die a messy death, creating further toxicity in the form of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), nasty molecules that damage cell structures and your DNA.

So as soon as a football player takes a concussive hit, from then for hours, and longer,  the resulting excitotoxicity attacks neurons and other cells:

  • Dangerous cytokines deliver massive numbers of inflammatory molecules.
  • Glutamate increases wildly, along with other neurotransmitters.
  • NMDA receptors are activated by excess glutamate which causes a flow of calcium and sodium into cells, generating free radicals.
  • Dying mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse release toxic Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), bully molecules swinging dangerous free radical electrons, and smashing up nerve cells.
  • Vasoconstriction reduces blood flow to the brain.

Amazingly, cannabinoids in cannabis exert a healing calm to excitotoxicity and help reduce neurological damage in all areas.

  • Antioxidants action: Even without activating the  endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids themselves are potent anti-oxidants, the perfect remedy to the oxidative stress, as they neutralize these rowdy ROS molecules.
  • Retrograde signalling, found only in the endocannabinoid system, calms neuronal firings with “backwards” retrograde signaling across synapses to reduce nerve cell activity.
  • Apoptosis, cell death is reduced, lowering the resulting volume of inflammatory molecules.
  • Cannabinoids promote vasodilation, restoring healing blood flow to the brain by counteracting the endothelin (ET-1)-induced vasoconstriction that aggravates brain damage.
  • Anti-inflammatory actions are all neuroprotective. And they result in reduced brain swelling.

So, obviously, the investigation of cannabis in reducing traumatic brain injury and CTE in football players and sports participants who suffer concussions presents a life-saving opportunity. Their are ample reasons for undertaking this research and hopefully the NFL will take up Dr. Grinspoon’s challenge to fund it.

First, do no harm. The NFL’s knee jerk mandate of prohibiting cannabis use by players may be doing huge harms by denying them the medicine that can help prevent, treat, and minimize injuries from the brain trauma they suffer as players.

Beyond that, what can we do as fans of football, and for some, as parent of young players, to help get the NFL to sponsor this vitally needed research into concussion and cannabis?.

Copyright © 2015  Don Fitch