Calvin Johnson—the former Detroit Lions receiver otherwise known as Megatron—estimates that during his short career in pro football, he received nine concussions. And that’s his conservative estimate.
He is far from alone. According to a 2017 study from Boston University, 99 percent of former football players have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. It’s a degenerative brain disease that occurs in people who have recurring head trauma — like NFL players who take hard hits week after week.
CTE is characterized by symptoms like dementia and amnesia, and quite a few people point to the brain condition for the untimely suicides of a number of former players. Some 86 percent of athletes who receive a concussion will likely experience post-traumatic migraines or headache pain in general, as well as other symptoms that are harder to explain, such as difficulty with regulating moods, and maintaining daily routines.
The traumatic condition is not limited to pro sports players. According to the Boston University study, everyone from military veterans to high school athletes have been diagnosed with it. The condition is truly ravaging and has been largely downplayed by professional sports clubs and team managers. One could even make a case that there is a causal connection between opioid abuse on pro sports teams, as players try to manage symptoms and keep themselves in the game for a few more years.
Thankfully—there is a ray of hope. Back to Calvin Johnson:
He retired at 30 and put his money down on a therapy that he had used for years to help him treat his head trauma. He founded a medical marijuana company with former Lions player Rob Sims and the two are opening a group of Michigan-based dispensaries. They also took their faith in the cannabis cure a step further, with a six-figure donation to a Harvard research project on the benefits of cannabis for CTE.
“We can be in a position to develop a treatment for CTE,” Sims told ESPN. “There’s been suggestion that CBD and stuff can help cognitive disease, and we think that potentially there could be a treatment going forward that we can produce.”
There is certainly a lot of buzz about the efficacy of cannabis and CBD for treating post-concussion syndromes. The analgesic (pain-relieving) properties in cannabinoids are said to work wonders for the headaches and pains associated with head trauma, and help to increase blood flow, which promotes healing and reduces inflammation. Some say cannabis even has the potential to transport toxins and other harmful byproducts away from the brain. Cannabis products have also been prescribed for managing anxiety and depression, which can be associated with recovering from traumatic physical events.
What’s more—these benefits come without the addictive and potentially lethal side effects of opiates. Although cannabis and CBD don’t offer a total cure for CTE, they can offer relief and help sufferers manage painful symptoms.
We’ll be watching for more on this topic as researchers learn more. Stay tuned!
Christina Rock is a Seattle-based writer and photographer.