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Using Cannabis to Alleviate Sports Concussions

May 31, 2017 11:54AM ● Published by Londell Jackson

While most sports-related head injuries are minor and are recoverable within a few days or weeks, there is an increasing number of individuals who develop long-lasting and often progressing symptoms. For these athletes, repetitive concussion or mild brain injury develops into chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE was first introduced into the medical community in the late 1920s and was typically referred to as “punch drunk” or “dementia pugilistica” since the condition was most commonly recognized among professional boxers. These symptoms are brought on by the degeneration of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain, specifically within the hippocampus. General symptoms of CTE are varied, and they develop and worsen over time. Psychotic symptoms characterize the first stage of CTE. Social instability, erratic behavior, and the initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease define the second. During the final stage, patients suffer from general cognitive dysfunction, which progresses to dementia. The severity of CTE onset is positively correlated with the length of time engaged in the sport and the number of traumatic head injuries.

While quantitative studies may cite an athlete’s usage of cannabis as a substitute for tobacco during recreation, recent research indicates there may be additional benefits to cannabinoid consumption, particularly related to recovery. Studies have highlighted the positive benefits of cannabinoids like delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), which help to reduce seizure, pain, nausea, and tumor development.

New research has highlighted the neurogenic properties of cannabinoids specifically in the hippocampus of the brain. Studies suggest consumption of these cannabinoids may promote hippocampal neurogenesis—the regeneration of neurons in the part of the brain thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system—particularly when targeting the CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. The CB2 receptor is critical in the regulation of neural inflammation and neurogenesis without the psychoactive side effect.

The development of new therapies and treatments for existing ailments is an ongoing practice. However, as cannabis prohibition comes to an end, researchers will be free to explore how cannabinoids can help protect and perhaps reverse several neurodegenerative conditions. If this is the case, and while not a cure, cannabinoids may be found to reduce or reverse symptoms of CTE in athletes of all ages.

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