When Will the NFL Make the Right Call on Cannabis?

If you sit down to watch Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots on Feb. 3, you can expect to see some head-ringing hits and quite possibly a few players being led into a tent on the sidelines to undergo the NFL’s ballyhooed “concussion protocol.”

A Promising CTE Treatment – Marijuana

One thing you will not see is will not see is an ad for medical marijuana, which ironically has shown considerable promise in treating the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative disease that particularly plagues football players. Some scientists even believe it may have even protect against the disease, which is believed to be caused by repeated head injuries.

It’s not because no one wanted to plunk down the roughly $5.2 million it costs to air a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl. In fact, Acreage Holdings, a cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensing business, was willing to pay roughly twice that to air a 60-second ad featuring three people suffering from varying health issues who say their lives have been improved by the use of medical marijuana.

Acreage told USA Today that its agency sent storyboards for the “public service ad” to CBS and received a return email that said: “CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time.”

That’s not entirely surprising given the NFL’s traditionally hostile stance toward cannabis – whether recreational or medical — despite research showing it marijuana has promise in treating the symptoms of CTE, which include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, depression, aggression, and in some cases, dementia.

Work pointing in that direction include a 2005 study on rats published in the Journal of Clinical investigation that found cannabinoids stimulated the growth of neurons and eased anxiety and depression.

Many NFL players have argued for a relaxation on the league’s ban on cannabis, which can result in suspensions and fines for those who test positive. And the NFL Players Association is expected to push to ease the rule when the collective bargaining agreement with the league is renegotiated over the next few years.

Medical marijuana for pain management

The players’ argument boils down to the fact that medical marijuana helps them manage the pain that comes with repeated high-speed collisions and the stress of operating in such an intensive environment. They also note that it is far safer and less addictive than the opioids that were handed out like candy in training rooms for decades.

The NFL claims it has been studying medical marijuana for years, but has refused to back off from its strict disciplinary policy. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2014 vowed that the league would “follow the medicine” and change the policy if its medical experts found that cannabis offered a safer alternative to pain management or traumatic brain injury (TBI). To date that hasn’t happened.

While the science is still evolving, the league is ignoring a growing body of evidence suggesting that cannabis can help with both.

Greenlight Approved recent published a detailed report on medical marijuana use for relieving chronic pain, focusing on the role played by cannabidiol (CBD), one of the active ingredients in cannabis.

Research on cannabis and brain injuries and diseases is not as far along, but there are studies showing it hold tremendous promise in helping the body’s control room rebound.

A 2011 study on mice by researchers in Israel, for example, found that the body’s natural endocannabinoid system is “part of the brain’s compensatory or repair mechanisms.” Active ingredients in cannabis, notably THC and CBD, act on the same receptors in our brains, immune systems and elsewhere as the endocannabinoids produced by our body, which regulates many bodily functions.

Meanwhile, a study published in 2014 in The American Surgeon by researchers from the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center found that THC in particular reduced the death rate among patients who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. “A positive THC screen is associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining TBI,” it concluded.

CBD treatment for TBI

While those studies suggest cannabis can help the brain recover and ameliorate the effects of such an injury, a new theory holds open an even more exciting possibility: that CBD may protect the brain from being hurt so badly in the first place.

As reported in a 2016 article in Sports Illustrated, Kannalife Inc., a company involved in the research and development of novel new therapeutic agents, is studying whether CBD can protect brain cells from being injured by blows to the head or other traumas.

Animal studies have indicated that it can do just that, apparently by reducing the inflammation that results from such an injury. Human clinical trials have not yet been conducted, but the researchers believe they are getting close to a breakthrough discovery.

“We know that CBD is neuroprotective,” Dr. Bill Kinney, the company’s chief scientific officer, told SI. “We have seen effects in both protecting against cell death and increasing cell viability. … We think CBD could protect the neurons from future injury and also help them repair.”

If proven, the medical implications of such a discovery could apply to people with Alzheimer’s and other neurogenerative diseases as well.

If you or a loved one suffer from a brain disorder or disease, you may be interested in exploring the potential positive effects of cannabis as we await the results of this and other ongoing research.

Greenlight Approved, a consumer education platform dedicated to “guiding the cannabis curious,” can help. We believe when you start something new, it’s best to start slow. Gather all the information you can to make a safe informed decision. Let Greenlight Approved be your guide so your first experience with cannabis is an educated, safe and positive one. Let us direct you to premium product and brand options as well as participating retailers near you, at www.greenlightapproved.com.

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