Boxing, football, hockey, basketball…
There’s a long list of sports out there in which players run a big risk of suffering head injuries and concussions.
If you play one of these sports, you’re probably aware of the serious impact these injuries can have on your brain function.
You may also have heard that CBD can help protect against brain damage from these injuries.
Well, it can.
Read on for a detailed look at CBD and how it can help prevent brain damage from concussions and other head injuries.
What is a Concussion?
Concussions are a common injury affecting all kinds of athletes.
Maybe it was a tackle that caught you off guard or a blow that cut through your defenses.
A few hours or even days later, you start feeling dazed, off-balance, nauseous, or even lose consciousness completely.
If you’ve experienced these symptoms following a game or training session, chances are you suffered from a concussion.
Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury that affects the way your brain functions.
They are very common in the sporting world, especially in contact sports like American football, ice/field hockey, rugby, or combat sports like MMA.
And while there’s a good chance you know the symptoms of a concussion, not everyone knows what actually happens to the brain when they strike.
Concussion symptoms are caused by the brain shaking and moving inside the skull.
Your brain sits inside a special liquid called cerebrospinal fluid which helps protect it against soft blows and bumps.
Harder types of trauma, however, can cause your brain to shake, move, and collide against the inside of your skull.
This temporarily affects the proper functioning of your brain, which causes the tell-tale signs of a concussion (listed further down below).
The severity of a concussion depends on the severity of the trauma that caused it.
Most people will recover fully from a light concussion within a matter of days.
Severe concussions, however, can cause cerebral bleeding, which can be fatal.
Hence, it’s crucial you always seek medical attention immediately after a head injury.
What are the Symptoms of a Concussion?
The trauma from a concussion can cause a wide variety of symptoms.
- Confusion, delusion, or feeling “dazed”
- Amnesia and memory difficulties
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ringing in the ears
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty concentrating
- Light/noise sensitivity
- Difficulty sleeping
- Moodiness and irritability
- Disturbances to taste and smell
- Depression and other emotional symptoms
Sometimes the symptoms of a concussion can strike immediately.
Others may only take effect hours or days following the initial injury.
Severe concussions can cause more severe symptoms, including:
- Repeated vomiting
- Stumbling, difficulty walking or difficulties with coordination
- Severe confusion, including problems recognizing people
- Visual disturbances
CTE: How Head Injuries Change the Way our Brains Work
Concussions are inherent to some sports, including football, rugby, and boxing.
In fact, studies show that up to 40% of NFL players suffer from brain injuries such as concussions.
These brain injuries not only cause acute symptoms like those of a concussion, but they can also cause permanent structural changes to the brain and lead to serious changes in behavior, as well as cognitive and physical function.
One condition that gets mentioned a lot in the discussion of sports head injuries is chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
In fact, research from Boston University shows that 87% of footballers brains show hallmarks signs of this progressive neurodegenerative disease.
CTE was first discovered in the 1920s in boxers and was adequately named dementia pugilistica.
Even this early research provided clear evidence that repeated head trauma can have a huge impact on the brain and how it functions.
Today, CTE is associated with a wide variety of other sports, including American football, ice hockey, soccer, wrestling, and other combat or contact sports.
Studies show that even people who only played these sports at a junior or high school level are at risk of developing CTE later on in life.
In fact, research suggests that any kind of head trauma, regardless of whether it causes concussions, can lead to CTE.
“And the more hits he gets (sic), the greater the risk for this disease, even if he never has a concussion. Ever.”
Dr. Goldstein, together with a team of other researchers, recently published an article in the journal Brain exploring the impact of head injuries on young athletes.
As part of his research, Dr. Goldstein worked with post-mortem brain specimens from teenage boys who played high school football.
The specimens showed tell-tale signs of CTE.
“This is the beginning of a dementing process that will destroy a brain,” he says.
“To see this, a neurodegenerative disease, in a teenage brain, that’s tough. That’s really tough.”
Dr. Goldstein’s research also involved a rodent model of brain injury.
It was this rodent-model that showed that it’s not just concussions that lead to CTE, but head injuries in general, even little ones.
Repeated impacts of the head end up causing permanent structural changes to the brain that affect everything from a person’s motors skills to their behavior and emotional health.
In a 3-part documentary for Vice Sports, former offensive lineman Kyle Turley opened up about CTE and its effect on his life as well as that of his colleagues.
Some of the symptoms Kyle and other fellow football players mentioned in the documentary include:
- Fits of rage and aggression
- Mood swings
- Slurred speech
- Cognitive impairment and difficulty concentrating
- Hypersensitivity to light and sound
- Impulsive behavior
- Depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts
- Overwhelming anxiety
- Chronic migraines and headaches
- Dementia and amnesia
It’s important to realize that CTE is a progressive disease.
The damage to the brain doesn’t end once a person leaves the sport; instead, it gets progressively worse with time.
For many retired athletes, dealing with the symptoms of CTE is a daily struggle affecting not only the players themselves but their families, too.
“He would break a table or a chair or lamps. I would not buy a lamp that cost more than $20 for a long time because it’s going. At some point, it’s going to go,” says Stay Turley, Kyle’s wife.
For a more detailed look at CTE and its effects on athletes, make sure to check out the following resources:
- How Repeated Concussions Damage Your Brain Forever – Seeker
- When A High School Football Player Meets A Brain Injury Researcher – NPR
- Life After Football: The Effects of Repeated Concussions – BrainFacts.org
Does Cannabis hold Hope for Patients with CTE?
The medicinal properties of cannabis are getting a lot of media attention lately.
You’re probably already aware of the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of some of the compounds in the cannabis plant.
But did you know that cannabis also contains compounds that can help protect your brain against the brain damage caused by contact and combat sports like football or boxing?
One of these chemicals is CBD, a compound found in cannabis that doesn’t produce the psychoactive high we associate with marijuana.
Research shows that CBD has powerful neuroprotective effects that can help protect against brain damage from head injuries.
Plus, CBD can also directly treat the symptoms of CTE, including anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and more.
Below I’ll take a closer look at CBD and how it can help protect athletes from brain injuries and neurodegenerative conditions like CTE.
The Endocannabinoid System and its Role in Brain Health
The Endocannabinoid System is a kind of communications system that helps regulate a wide variety of physiological process vital for the proper functioning of our body.
The core components of the endocannabinoid system are:
- Cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2. CB1 is one of most widely expressed neuroreceptors in the brain. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are mainly found in immune cells and hematopoietic stem cells.
- Endogenous cannabinoids anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-Ag). Anandamide tends to bind to CB1 receptors, while 2-AG mainly binds to CB2 receptors.
Studies show that the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in maintaining brain health.
Moreover, the ECS seems to play a key role in helping the brain recover from trauma like sports-related head injuries.
In 2011, for example, a study co-authored by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, one of the world’s top cannabis researchers, looked at endocannabinoid signaling in rats with brain trauma.
The study found that the levels of endogenous cannabinoid 2-AG soar following traumatic brain injury.
Earlier research has also shown that endocannabinoids like 2-AG have clear neuroprotective effects.
In 2001, for example, Dr. Mechoulam and another team of researchers published an article in the medical journal Nature exploring the effects of 2-AG.
“What we did was cause relatively light damage to the brains of mice and administered one of the endogenous cannabinoids, 2-AG,” said Mechoulam in an interview with Vice Sports.
“We found that we could reduce by 50% the damage that was done.”
Based on these results, Dr: Mechoulam is a strong believer that cannabinoids play a key role in protecting our brain from damage like concussions.
“Chances are that concussions can be treated with 2-AG, a cannabinoid which we produce,” he said.
CBD: A Proven Neuroprotectant
So, studies show that endocannabinoids clearly have neuroprotective effects and help protect our brains against trauma.
But what about the phytocannabinoids found in plants like cannabis?
Well, studies show that CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids can have similar neuroprotective effects.
In 1998, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a groundbreaking report on the neuroprotective effects of CBD and THC.
The study was conducted on rats who were given toxic levels of glutamate and later treated with cannabinoids.
Both THC and CBD were equally effective at reducing glutamate toxicity, suggesting that both compounds have antioxidant and neuroprotective effects.
This study formed the basis for further research into cannabinoids and their role in neuroprotection.
In fact, based on the results of this study, the US government ended up patenting both THC and CBD as neuroprotective agents.
More specifically, the US patent suggests that both cannabinoids could be especially useful in protecting against the type of brain damage caused by strokes and trauma.
The patent also suggests that the neuroprotective effects of these cannabinoids could help with Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Parkinson’s
Trauma, like that of a hit to head, unleashes a complex molecular process that leads our brain to produce mass amounts of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that in normal settings plays a key role in learning and memory.
This trauma also leads our body to produce a variety of free radicals and inflammatory compounds.
The overproduction of these chemicals interrupts the flow of blood around the brain, causes physical damage to brain tissue, and affects the organ’s ability to function properly.
This upset to the brain is also essentially what causes the symptoms of a concussion, including agitation, moodiness, motor/cognitive impairment, etc.
Cannabinoids like CBD, as the studies I mentioned earlier show, can help reduce the extent of damage to the brain and thereby also combat the symptoms of head trauma.
For more information on the neuroprotectant properties of CBD and other cannabinoids, make sure to check out the following resources:
- Using Weed To Save Football (Parts 1-3) – Vice Sports
- No Brainer: CBD And THC For Brain Injuries – Project CBD
- Cannabidiol For Neurodegenerative Disorders: Important New Clinical Applications For This Phytocannabinoid? – British Journal Of Pharmacology, 2013
CBD has other Health Benefits for Athletes, too
Besides its neuroprotective effects, CBD can have a wide variety of other health benefits for athletes.
It can help relieve pain from sore muscles or injuries, reduce game-day anxiety and stress, improve sleep and metabolism, and even give you an energy boost as part of your pre-workout routine.
As an amateur triathlete, I use a variety of CBD products for all of these reasons.
I regularly use CBD creams, for example, to relieve DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
I also use CBD oils and gummies to get a better night’s sleep and relieve stress and anxiety before particular important events.
Now, you might be reading this with a bit of skepticism.
And I totally get it; I was also pretty skeptical when I first started learning about CBD.
After all, the constant news reports claiming CBD can help with everything from arthritis and inflammation to severe epilepsy make it seem like a bit of “wonder drug.”
But the reason CBD is so versatile is that the endocannabinoid system that processes it seems to be involved in most of the key physiological processes that keep our body functioning properly.
To help you conceptualize the vast benefits of CBD and how they can help you be a better athlete, make sure to check out my CBD benefits page here.
And, if you’re worried about whether CBD supplements are legal in the sporting world, make sure to read my post Is CBD Legal For Athletes?
Find the Best CBD Sports Supplements Online
Ever since I started using CBD, I’ve seen great results.
I sleep better, train better, recover faster and feel better when I step out onto the track on game-day.
I’ve also seen CBD work wonders for my wife, Sara, who battles with constant stress/anxiety from work and chronic skin conditions like acne.
Sara’s Dad even uses CBD to relieve arthritis.
Based on these experiences, I’ve dedicated myself to informing athletes like you about the plethora of benefits CBD can have for them.
If you play a sport where you run the risk of suffering from head injuries and concussions, I seriously recommend using CBD for its neuroprotective properties.
More specifically, I’d look into CBD oils, as these seem to be used for more serious conditions.
You can find detailed reviews of CBD products like oils on my website.
If you’ve never used CBD before, I’d recommend starting with a low to mid-strength oil and seeing how you respond to the supplement.
From there, you can always step things up if need be.
For more information about cannabinoids and their neuroprotective properties, make sure to check out the resources I listed earlier in this article.
Finally, for more general information about CBD for athletes, make sure to read my blog.