In a release, the NFL said the studies will research “the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in elite football players.”
“The specific goal of this project is to determine whether cannabis/hemp based cannabinoids, i.e., cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can be used safely and effectively for pain management and to reduce the use of prescription medications including opioids in post-concussion syndrome athletes,” the statement added.
NFL chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills said the league wants to make sure that players are receiving care reflective of the most-up-to-date medical consensus.
“While the burden of proof is high for NFL players who want to understand the impact of any medical decision on their performance, we are grateful that we have the opportunity to fund these scientifically-sound studies on the use of cannabinoids that may lead to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact the pain management of our players,” Sills added.
The NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee received over 100 proposals for the study.
NFL players are not permitted to participate in the study.
The league statement said while the results of the study may inform alternative pain management strategies, “they will have no impact on the jointly administered Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse in place under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA).”
Exercise physiologist Patrick Neary at the University of Regina said he is humbled by the opportunity and experience.
Neary said his team submitted the grant application to see if cannabinoids, in particular CBD and THC, could help protect the brain from concussion as well as if it could reduce the use of pain prescription medications such as opioids.
The U of R team will also be working with researchers from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Kelowna and the B.C. Children’s Hospital.
MyNextHealth Inc. is also contributing $400,000 to the project.
Neary said the team thinks it’s important to give back to the community.
“When youngsters get a concussion on the football field or the ice rink or they fall off a swing at the playground, what is that we can actually do to help them potentially recover, as well as potentially not have any significant effects later on in the future?” Neary said.
“The brain is so valuable, it’s so important to the functioning of our body.”
About five years ago, information came out that cannabidiol found in marijuana plants could potentially be neuroprotective, Neary explained.
“So our thoughts were: can we use this to help mitigate any changes, severity (and/or) the number of concussions by actually giving it to individuals before concussions happen? Or can we give it to them after a concussion happens?” he said.
The group also wanted to know if giving it to individuals would speed up the recovery of the healing process.
NFL funding will allow the team to hire graduate students to collect research information, and analyze blood and saliva samples.
When someone suffers a concussion, Neary explained an influx of different chemicals can have a negative effect by creating inflammation.
The research team’s goal is to figure out if CBD can be used to offset some of the inflammation. Both human and animal research has shown that CBD is anti-inflammatory.
The team’s laboratory work has also shown in a small case series that CBD and “a tiny bit of THC” was beneficial to some participants’ blood pressure response.
“In other words, it helped the heart…it also helped the brain prepare the heart for the trauma that was going on and the reason why that’s significant is during a concussion, the heart is actually affected as well,” Neary said.
Neary said the NFL funding will help kick things off for the major project which will take part in three separate studies.
The studies will take place over the next two and a half to three years.
The first study is expected to start in May or June.
It will be a dose escalation study where the research team will take CBD in small amounts and increase it until there is an “optimal formulation in order for our football players to use during their training and also during competition.”
Another part of the study will see football players from the University of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan, and potentially the University of British Columbia involved.
Some players will be given the optimal formulation of the CBD and another group will be given a placebo without any CBD.
“One group will start with the CBD and the other group will start with the placebo and then we’ll switch over,” Neary said. “So then you get both of these interventions to see how that CBD is actually helping you during the football season and can it reduce the number of concussions and/or the severity.”
The third study will look at the combination of the optimal CBD formulation and low THC doses, which have shown to help with pain management.
The research group wants to see if that combination can help control pain and reduce the need to prescribe opioids.
“If we can reduce that addictive effect, the addiction of opioids by using a plant that’s been put on the earth for one reason or another, if we can use that in a beneficial way, then how wonderful would that be?” Neary said.