CTE, Concussions & CBD: How Can Cannabis Help

Sports are a huge part of the culture in the U.S., especially when it comes to football. From high school games to the family pickup game at Thanksgiving to big Super Bowl parties, football is tightly woven into so many American traditions.

We think of our football players as tough, willing to take a hit, and as true warriors when they get back up from a punishing play. While all this may be true, research now shows that they’re also especially vulnerable to a dangerous condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). And this bad news is that CTE may leave them with incurable brain damage.

Though there’s no cure on the horizon, a compound found in Cannabis sativa and hemp plants—cannabidiol (CBD)—may help ease symptoms of this devastating condition.


What Is CTE?

CTE is a degenerative brain disease, which causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. CTE is characterized by neurological and physiological changes in the brain such as the buildup of tau, an abnormal protein. In CTE, tau builds up and clumps in areas of the brain where it shouldn’t be, disrupting brain functions.

Unfortunately, there’s no way of diagnosing CTE while someone is alive. It can only be confirmed after death by examining the brain for tau deposits.

Still, unlike Alzheimer’s disease, CTE has a clear cause—trauma from repeated concussions. First noted among boxers, and now well known as a condition that affects football players, this incurable disease can affect anyone with a history of concussions. But most of the conversation about CTE is in relation to contact sports athletes. The repeated blows to the head, falls and collisions during these sports can cause repeated concussions and lead to CTE.

This difficult-to-live-with condition causes symptoms like:

  • Anger, depression, anxiety and other mood disturbances
  • Impulse control
  • Deterioration in attention, concentration and memory
  • Disorientation, dizziness and confusion
  • Headaches
  • Poor judgment
  • Slowed muscular movements
  • Difficulty walking, speaking and swallowing
  • Tremors
  • Vertigo
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Deafness

While there are some pharmaceutical options to address the symptoms of CTE, there’s no cure or established treatment for the disease. The best prevention for CTE is to avoid activities that are likely to cause concussive incidents, and to make sure that concussions are treated by a qualified medical professional immediately.

Can Athletes Take CBD?

Thankfully, CBD offers help where conventional medicine is lacking. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to medical marijuana. But CBD is the most common medicinal chemical in hemp—and hemp-derived CBD is available nationwide. On a molecular level the CBD from cannabis marijuana and the CBD from hemp is the same.

So, hemp-derived CBD has properties that can be extremely beneficial for those dealing with the symptoms of CTE. From protecting the brain from concussive trauma to reducing symptoms like pain, anger, depression, headaches and tremors, CBD offers hope for those who suffer from the condition.

Unfortunately, those who are most in need of CBD—professional, high school and college athletes—are usually barred from taking it, because it comes from cannabis. Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 substance and most sports organizations ban its use.

The World Anti-Doping Agency recently removed CBD from its list of banned substances. But the major sports leagues in the U.S. including the NFL and NBA still prohibit anything related to cannabis, no matter where it comes from. Even when CBD comes from hemp (which is just cannabis with very low levels of THC), it’s still not allowed for these athletes.

But now players are starting complain. Some have begun to use CBD and—realizing how helpful it can be—are fighting to change the rules.

Super Bowl champion Leonard Marshall says his life changed for the better since he swapped out synthetic prescription medications that his doctors prescribed, for CBD. “I found with CBD I had a higher pain threshold, I felt calm and finally, I felt ‘Leonard could be Leonard’ again,” he said.

Jake Plummer, a former pro-football quarterback shared his positive results as well, saying “Since I started taking CBD regularly, there are no more slow-moving, dreadful days with headaches, joint stiffness and wandering thoughts.”

As studies continue to find more and more confirmed cases of CTE in deceased athletes, it’s becoming more urgent than ever to bring awareness to the role CBD could play in protecting the brains and lives of these vulnerable athletes.

How CBD Can Help Prevent Concussions & CTE

So how can hemp-derived CBD help these athletes fight CTE? There are a few ways.

Most importantly, CBD is a powerful neuroprotectant. In fact, the U.S. government holds a patent for CBD—a way for them to research using CBD in this way. Some researchers argue that we should be using this power to help protect athletes.

Lester Grinspoon, a cannabis researcher and professor emeritus from Harvard University believes NFL players should play with CBD in their system, saying, “I would have each individual take a capsule an hour or two before they play or practice.”

Research suggests that when patients have CBD in their brain, they’re less likely to be damaged by traumatic injuries. So, CBD could be used preventatively to protect the brain’s neurons during a concussion.

Additionally, CBD may help protect the brain even after injury. Research on Alzheimer’s disease shows that CBD works to protect the brain by inhibiting the accumulation of tau—that nasty protein that accumulates in both the brains of those with Alzheimer’s and those with CTE. Taking CBD for CTE may help reduce or prevent buildup of tau, avoiding the loss of function that comes from these buildups.

To add to its list of positive effects on the brain, cannabinoids have also been shown to help promote the growth of new brain cells, potentially repairing damage that was already done.

Could CBD Address CTE’s Side Effects?

Besides protecting and repairing the brain directly, CBD can also help with many of the side effects of CTE. CBD is known for so many health benefits including easing:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Movement problems

This is because these symptoms are regulated by the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a system of receptors throughout the human body, which are activated by cannabinoids from marijuana, as well as endocannabinoids that the body naturally produces. When our bodies’ natural endocannabinoids fail to properly regulate these functions, such as with CTE, adding plant cannabinoids like CBD can help activate the system, restoring balance.

It’s no wonder so many athletes suffering from these symptoms are now coming forward to share how helpful CBD has been in bringing back everything from their physical movement to their state of mind.

Taking Hemp for CTE

If you’re considering consuming CBD for a brain injury, your first best step is to talk to a doctor who’s knowledgeable in cannabinoid treatments. You can consult with one HelloMD’s doctors who are well-versed in cannabis science by video conference from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Once a doctor lets you know what dosing is appropriate for your condition, we have a wide variety of CBD products to choose from including hemp CBD tinctures, oils, lotions, bath soaks and even vape pens.

For those looking to avoid any psychoactive effects from THC or folks who live in places where medical marijuana isn’t available, hemp-based CBD products are an easy option. Hemp has very low levels of THC, so these products won’t result in a head high. This means you can medicate throughout the day and still be able to work and take care of your daily responsibilities.

Suffering from the symptoms of CTE? Don’t wait for them to get worse—CBD may be the treatment you need.

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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