How $1 Million Of NFL Funding Will Be Used For Cannabis And Concussion Research


January 24, 2024

A three-year study, funded by the National Football League, has been approved to investigate the potential of CBD for preventing concussion in players.

The study, which will also explore whether cannabinoids can be used as an alternative to opioids for pain management, hopes to address an unmet need among athletes at risk of head injuries on the field.

In 2022, the NFL announced it was putting forward $1 million in funding to investigate the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of concussions and for alternative pain management.

Researchers at the University of Regina in Canada received $500,000 to conduct the study which has now received approval from Health Canada and is to begin recruiting participants this month.

A second project at the University of California San Diego, also received $500,000 to study the effects of cannabinoids on pain and recovery from sports-related injuries.

Risk Of Concussions In Contact Sport

The treatment and prevention of concussions among athletes in contact sports has become an area of growing interest in recent years.

Research has shown that repetitive head impacts during football games can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which results in the death of nerve cells in the brain. Its onset is thought to be linked to the number and strength of head impacts athletes have received over their career.

One recent study found that in 152 young athletes exposed to repetitive head impacts and under the age 30 at the time of death, just under half had evidence of CTE.

At the end of last year the first case of stage two CTE was diagnosed in former American Football player, Wyatt Bramwell, who died in July 2019 aged 18.

What Will The Study Look Like?

The phase one trial will test the safety, efficacy and tolerability of cannabis products containing high levels of CBD in healthy athletes, while attempting to find the “optimal” daily dose for neuroprotection against concussion.

In total, 35 participants will be given a placebo, followed by a low dose of CBD which will be increased gradually over a two-week period. They will then undergo testing sessions, including psychological and health questionnaires, equipment to record signals from the brain and heart, and safety laboratory tests.

The researchers will also collect blood samples from participants to analyze how much CBD is used in the body and for how long it lasts, and saliva samples for genetic analysis.

Phase two will be a crossover placebo-controlled study in which researchers take this determined dose and test its neuroprotective effects and ability to reduce the severity of concussions in university athletes competing in a season of Gridiron football.

The final phase will then examine whether varying levels of cannabinoids can be used for pain management in place of opioid medications. The research team will test different formulations, including isolated CBD and THC, as well as a combination of both.

‘Professional Sport Is Starting To Wake Up’

Lead researcher, Dr Patrick Neary, is an exercise physiologist and professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina.

“Based on the existing literature and pilot studies that we and others have done using rodent models, CBD has anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective properties. Our hypothesis is that there’s a potential to reduce the number and severity of concussions with CBD,” he said during a phone interview.

“We also believe that it can potentially help athletes and former athletes that are on prescription medications like opioids, in coming off those, or at least reducing the dose.”

Dr Neary has been working in the area of concussion prevention and treatment for more than 15 years. He hopes this new area of research will lead to the development of a cannabinoid-based therapeutic which could be taken regularly as a preventative measure in athletes from an early age.

“I think professional sport is now starting to wake up to the fact that we have a plant on this planet that we could potentially use for the betterment of mankind,” he added.

“My hope is that this funding from major sports will have a trickle down effect to those eight and 10-year olds who are out kicking a soccer ball.”


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