The Prohibited Pill that Might Save Athletes' Lives

By Andrew Ward on August 30, 2018

Concussions have the potential to affect us all, and in sports, the chances increase exponentially. While high collision sports such as football, soccer and hockey tend to get the most recognition, any contact sport can lead to concussions. Despite this fact, up to 57 percent of sports-related concussions do not receive care when one occurs.

More so, even when an athlete receives care, the impact on their brain and quality of life later on is uncertain. In recent years, numerous athletes—mostly from the NFL—developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which led to a decline in their quality of life and played a role in athletes becoming a threat to themselves and others. A few major NFL names linked to CTE include Aaron Hernandez and Junior Seau.   

A Boston University study found that, out of 112 deceased NFL players examined, 111 had CTE. Anne McKee, Director of the Boston University CTE Center, said, “It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football; there is a problem… [and] it is time to come together to find solutions."

One potential solution may be a “concussion pill” that is currently under development in Miami. The drug is showing some signs of progress in preclinical studies, as the CBD-meets-NMDA-amino-acid pill appears to improve cognitive function in rodents with brain injuries. So far, the pill’s individual components have shown no negative effects, nor has it from combination therapy.

Jonathan Gilbert, manager of the developmental partnership between Scythian Biosciences Corp., the University of Miami and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, told United Press International that, "This evidence strongly suggests further testing is warranted on medical cannabis' potential in the treatment of trauma to the brain."

In a press statement, Scythian CEO Rob Reid added, "We are encouraged by the initial findings of this study which provide persuasive and encouraging evidence that warrants the continuation of this research program. We are just beginning to tap the potential healing power of medical cannabis and exploring its growing number of benefits."

The next rounds of research will likely focus on the neuroprotective properties of CBD and its ability to enhance the treatment for mild to moderate brain injuries and concussions. Additional phases of research should see a small human test and a full-scale clinical trial if the second phase is deemed effective. 

The CBD-based concussion pill has years of research and trials before it could impact treatments for athletes or anyone else, but early research indicates that there is at least some potential for improving concussion treatment for professionals and youth competitors alike. With the current system not working, a solution is needed. While soccer has moved away from headers and the NFL is continually changing tackling rules, the risk of concussions still looms too close overhead. If studies continue to prove its validity, cannabis may find its way onto the sidelines of competitions just like Gatorade and ice packs.

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