American football is one of the most-watched sports in the world, with teams’ combined revenues eclipsing $8 billon in 2017. The sport is, by its design, a physically intense game, with collisions necessary for completing and ending plays. The game has over its near-century long tenure evolved to become more intense, with the average player becoming larger and faster—and delivering a more powerful blow to his opponent. Even with thick pads and helmets to absorb the brunt of the hit, players are still subjected to intense (and sometimes dangerous) collisions, causing permanent damage. But it wasn’t until recently that players and the public began to learn just how severe the damage could be; it’s becoming more common that athletes who have played at both the college and professional levels experience CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease found in those who have suffered multiple head injuries—and CBD is providing evidence that it can benefit players who are at risk for or have CTE.
CBD and Neurodegenerative Diseases, Chronic Pain
Cannabidiol has been documented to be a promising agent for improving neurodegenerative diseases, ranging from Parkinson’s to PTSD, and various types of traumatic brain injuries. CBD is known to produce a significant increase in net neurogenesis, making its potential for further study and application exceptional—particularly in those with traumatic brain injuries, including CTE.
But many American football players are already aware of CBD’s role in improving mental faculties, functions, and chronic pain. Former Miami Dolphin defensive lineman, Larry Chester, has been vocal about his experience with CBD. But before he began taking the nonpsychoactive compound, Chester admits to smoking cannabis while in the NFL as a way to deal with his chronic pain. He would in his post-NFL years rely on opioids to deal with the pain caused by his seven seasons in the NFL, which provided little relief. But today, Chester uses CBD oil (and other CBD products) to treat his pain—all of which are prescribed by his doctor.
But Chester isn’t the only former NFL player who believes in the healing power of CBD. After a knee injury ended his one-year stint in the NFL, Herve Damas went to medical school and earned his M.D. Damas, a former skeptic of CBD and cannabis as a way to treat pain, notes that humans produce their own endocannabinoids, and traumatic experiences—whether mental or physical—decrease the production of those endocannabinoids. Taking CBD oil helps improve the body’s homeostasis, or balance—a crucial impact for those who’ve suffered TBIs, particularly CTE.
Moving Forward: CBD and CTE
Football players may suffer multiple concussions that, over time, increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, leading to the accelerated onset and progression of dementia. While the NFL does not allow players to use either CBD or cannabis to manage their pain, research has shown that CBD is a neuroprotectant, and can offer players and those living with TBIs and neurodegenerative diseases improved quality of life.