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Cannabis being studied as potential treatment for concussions and other brain injuries

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Scientists hope CBD could ease symptoms associated with concussions and traumatic brain injury.

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 33 U.S. states, with 10 of those states also green-lighting recreational use. Last year Canada legalized cannabis on a Federal level. With so many jurisdictions in North America lifting prohibitions on marijuana, the medical field is now rife with opportunities to test the therapeutic potential of the formerly controlled substance.

In Colorado, which permits recreational use, one study is underway with hopes of discovering whether the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) — a natural compound present in cannabis — could aid recovery from traumatic brain injuries. CBD does not possess any psychoactive components, so it does not contribute to the psychotropic effects associated with smoking/ingesting marijuana.

This month Boulder, CO’s Daily Camera reported that Boulder-based company Real-Time Diagnostics Ventures, Inc. was conducting the study based on anecdotal evidence of CBD supplements improving pain relief and issues around sleeping.

The Boulder study is sponsored by Flowering Hope Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to advance the medicinal use of plant-derived cannabinoids, and Clover Leaf University, a company that creates safety procedures and compliance training specific to the cannabis industry.

According to Dr. Don Cooper of Real-Time Diagnostics Ventures, his study into CBD’s effects on brain injuries is the first of its kind. Cooper also stated that data exists to show that phytocannabinoids are neuroportective and may help restore neural functions after a brain injury.

The study will examine 40 subjects who are recovering from brain injuries. 20 will be given CBD supplements and 20 will be given placebos. The subjects will then use questionnaires to track their symptoms, as well as subjective improvements in their lives related to well-being and sleep.

The subjects will also have their brain activity measured with EEG technology and cognitive testing. The study is expected to be completed within a year.

Around the same time as the Boulder study was announced news of another study into CBD and brain injuries became public; one with a direct connection to sports-related concussions (SRC).

On March 7th CBC Sports reported that 100 former NHL players will be randomly tested, in a double-blind study, to see if CBD has a positive effect on symptoms associated with past concussions. Those symptoms include depression, post-traumatic stress, progressive dementa and the affects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Leading neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator, of Toronto Western Hospital’s Canadian Concussion Centre (who once told Bloody Elbow ‘What makes an iron chin’) spoke to CBC about the study.

“I think it’s worth a try,” said Tator. “I’m reasonably hopeful. But you know as a brain surgeon and concussion researcher, you have to be optimistic. You have to feel that somebody is going to get it right and we’re going to make a hit and there will be a breakthrough in this field. We really need better treatments.”

The study on former hockey players will be led by NEEKA Health Canada with the support of the NHL Alumni Association and the Canopy Growth Corporation. Dr. Mark Ware of Canopy Growth said their, “complex and multidimensional study will give us an unprecedented understanding of the interaction between cannabidiol and the brains and behaviours of former NHL players living with post-concussion symptoms.”

Tator is not directly involved in this study. However, he is currently developing a study of his own involving CBD. He recently applied to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for a grant to study CBD’s affects on headaches associated with concussions.

When speaking about his grant application Tator remarked that, “it’s incredible how many patients who I see in the office currently are taking one or other marijuana preparations for their concussion symptoms. Enough of them are telling me that they’re getting some benefit that I think it should be subjected to a rigorous research study.”

Despite marijuana and cannabinoids being legalized, in various capacities, across North America the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) — which oversees the UFC’s anti-doping program — continues to list both marijuana and cannabinoids as prohibited substances.

According to USADA marijuana and cannabinoids have “the potential to enhance” sports performance and represent “actual or potential health risk to the athlete.” USADA, using guidelines established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), also claim that marijuana and cannabinoids violate “the spirit of sport.”