Can Cannabis Prevent Brain Damage in Athletes?

Evan Doherty
Can Cannabis Prevent Brain Damage in Athletes?

Athletes get hit in the head all the time!

However, cannabis might act as a solution to preventing damage to the brain. A new study suggesting exactly that has recently come out. 

Controversies surrounding whether cannabis enhances an athlete’s performance have been around for a while. Between that, whether drug testing should be eased or research finding cannabis may be able to alleviate muscle recovery, cannabis use has had its fair share of controversy in the athletic community. 

It’s called “the modulatory role of cannabis use in subconcussive neural injury.” Initially published in the journal Cell, it suggests chronic cannabis consumption may have the ability to decrease the devastating effects of hits to the head. If this research proves anything, boxers, football and soccer players might have a new way to reduce the risk of long-term brain damage.

Does Cannabis Use Have This Athletic Benefit?

The research project involved 43 adult soccer players (24 of which used cannabis weekly for the past six months) and 19 non-cannabis users. The average age of the subjects was 20, including people who smoke, vape and eat edibles.

The first step was observing post-header players' oculomotor function, which is when eyes adjust and coordinate during movement. Next is a near-point of convergence (NPC), the closest point to the face before the eyes see double. Those who hadn’t used cannabis had their NPC move farther away up to 72 hours after the controlled heading. It stopped growing within 24 hours for cannabis users.

Additionally, researchers looked at S100B markers associated with brain damage and neurodegenerative diseases in higher concentrations. Cannabis users showed a lower amount of S100B than their counterparts, indicating that head blows have less impact. 

Neurofilament light chain blood tests were also conducted during research. These tests assess sports-related concussions, neurodegenerative diseases and neuronal damage. Minimal differences were noticed between the groups.

What Does This Mean?

Researchers agree a 72-hour timeframe may not be able to evaluate how long the elevation of NPC and S100B lasted before returning to the baseline for non-cannabis users. However, the group also suggested that the study’s design was one of the purest ways” to determine the effects of head impacts and how cannabis can act as an aid.

Large differences between the groups confirmed that cannabis use made a difference. However, more studies are required to determine the validity of the project. 

During the trial, no drug toxicology tests were performed. Researchers suggested a randomized controlled trial using standardized cannabis products and dosages could make a difference. To confirm their findings, researchers said they need better understand the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis in the brain. 

In 2023, the National Basketball Association and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) revealed cannabis would be removed from its banned substances list for players. It means players can promote and invest in cannabis companies. 

It’s a possibility that cannabis could prevent severe sports injuries such as brain damage from the evidence presented during this clinical trial. However, there’s still so much to know and understand before these findings can impact the sports industry. 

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