New approaches for reducing concussions

There’s a new treatment being developed that’s hoped to prevent concussions. The US government has issued a new licence to KannaLife Sciences.

Its purpose is to develop a medication, molecule, or compound that creates a dome-like inner strengthening of the cerebral cortex that would protect the brain from damaging concussions.

KannaLife Sciences had received a license in June, 2012, to use marijuana byproducts to develop a treatment for Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE). The results are encouraging enough to move forward on the concussion problem.

The Government and Cannabis/Hemp Medicine

The US government holds a patent on the use of cannabis. It’s #6,630,507, Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants. It’s known as the “507 Patent”. It grants the government permanent rights to any product, substance, or medication that uses the neuroprotective or antioxidant benefits of cannabis. Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 substance. That means that in theory, it has no medical benefits. In reality, cannabis is often being researched only if it directly benefits the government. This is hypocrisy at its worst, yet some important benefits may come of it.

Concussions are a part of football. Right now, they are the target of the partnership between the US and KannaLife Sciences. Details are scarce, but the company believes that it can create (or isolate) a compound from marijuana byproducts that will prevent concussions. The substance derived or created will help create an internal ‘dome’ that protects the brain against concussions.

KannaLife Sciences describes themselves this way:

We are a socially responsible, phyto-medical company specializing in the research & development of pharmacological products derived from plants.

Their ‘phyto-medical’ research is on cannabis and its byproducts.

Like the HE treatment, the anti-concussion medication would also be derived from cannabis/hemp. The company will be growing marijuana plants in specially controlled greenhouses. The by-products of the plants will be used to find or develop a substance that will create a stronger biological ‘dome’ over the brain. Strange as that may sound, it could be an effective preventative treatment to protect football players (and athletes in other high-impact sports) from concussions. If successful, it will aid in preventing players from developing CTE.

SB 33 champion Marvin Washington, who suffered concussions during his 11-year NFL career, is the face of this program. It’s now based out of Washington, DC. Here’s Marvin's take:

Well that's what they're developing, is an iron dome for the brain, so you do not get that, that when the brain hits, you don't get that extensive bruising and recovery.

This may be shooting for the moon. But such research often opens unexpected and at times beneficial doors.

As noted in a press release from Medical Marijuana, Inc.:

The CTE development license agreement is in effect through February 2021 and marks the second time that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded KannaLife a license agreement. The first was in June 2012, with an exclusive license from NIH through the same US Patent 6,630,507, for the development of a target drug candidate for treating Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE).”

If you’re still wondering why medical cannabis is illegal in many states, this explains a lot. It’s about the money, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Some states, notably Texas, are now going against international law and fighting against the innocuous CBD. The DEA and other government organizations have stated that they will not permit any funds to be used that might prove that cannabis is beneficial. Only the power of the government license permits KannaLife Sciences to study two of the possible applications of cannabis.

It begs the question of why other legitimate organizations and universities are being stonewalled. Although a few have either started their own greenhouses and one license has been given to the University of California at San Diego, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s not news that if you follow the money, many questions get answered. The money leads directly to KannaLife Sciences and its work with the government.

The Tipping Point

Some research estimates that NFL players “take on a mind-blowing 1,000 Gs of force when hit, making the long-term effects of a concussion that much more damaging.” While that number is arguable, the long-term effects of repeated concussions are not. The research on CTE and football players has reached the tipping point - no medical organization now argues that there is no link.

Further, we have youth football, Pop Warner, and organized games up through the NFL. By the time they get to the NFL, many of the players have substantial post-concussive problems already. They just haven’t been diagnosed. We know that these young athletes are already in the system.

Other Steps

The NFL now runs a baseline on every player, every year. That’s a good first step forward. I’ve asked for this for years. The NFL has also made its sideline protocols for concussion testing public. They’ve made their follow-up requirements public as well. They’ve partnered on a wide variety of health-oriented programs. They've worked with youths, high schools, and colleges. The goal is to reduce the number and severity of concussions starting at a young age.

There’s a lot of things the NFL doesn’t do right, but these are not among them. This is the best of what the league has done and is planning to do with regard to young and professional players alike.

I’m uncomfortable with government licensing to only a specific company (or companies). It moves the government into 'special' relationships with those companies. That’s historically led to abuses of the system. It reduces the competitive incentive to succeed. It limits the unexpected discoveries you often find when several independent intellectual approaches are being aimed at the same problem.

At the same time, I’m also happy that this problem has the potential to create a preventative approach at all. Safe prevention for head injuries is essential. This will challenge the past history regarding the high level of safety for cannabis/hemp extracts. You’re trying to find a specific, minimal compound or molecule that has a specific, limited function. That’s hard to do. But if it’s possible, prevention beats the cost of treatment every time.

There will be questions on the side effects of any medication that you take for an extended time frame. That’s going to be part of the project. Can they maintain the level of safety that the plant naturally has, even when a compound is taken from it?

Pete Carroll’s Concussion Prevention Program

In related news, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has created an important option for reducing concussions. It’s a program, including video, for teaching safe tackling techniques. It’s aimed at the younger players, where both good and bad habits tend to become ingrained.

Ask any high school coach about the number one problem in preventing concussions, and he’s likely to tell you that it’s tackling. Getting the emphasis on safe, effective tackling has to start at the youngest safe age to play the sport. Personally, I wouldn’t let a child of mine start before 10-12, depending on their own rate of size and maturity. The right approach has to become an entrenched aspect of teaching football. As it does, concussions will drop.

This is just one of many ways to reduce concussions. It doesn’t address the issue of weekly, smaller concussions. That's a problem that we find in offensive linemen, in particular. Carroll’s program is just one tool, but we need all of those we can find. Perhaps the KannaLife Sciences research will help there.

By the time players reaches the NFL, history suggests that you can’t really change the techniques that they use. It’s a natural part of how they play the game. You’re better off by starting with investing in establishing a program at the beginning of players' careers. You can then maintain the same, or improved teaching over the years. You drill the players on it again and again.

Eventually, some of them will be the top athletes, making the NFL. At the time, reducing concussions will have already made many of the players safer. It will be much easier to keep them clear on using proper technique, too.

The technique is based on the rugby tackle, something that many fans have called for. Rugby also has a problem with concussions, so the technique has been adapted for American Football. Avoiding concussions depends on utilizing the equipment that American football has and will have. Technique is obviously essential. The emphasis has to be on the biomechanics that maximize both players' safety.

Carroll’s tackling approach is similar to the ‘Heads Up’ technique. Teaching it is just a matter of time and focus. If the team’s coaches emphasize it, the players will begin to use it. As time passes, more and more players will come to the NFL knowing how to tackle safely. It’s just as effective - often more so. Too many players just throw themselves at a ballcarrier’s knees. Right now, safe tackling doesn’t make the highlight reels. It’s not flashy - it’s just efficient.

So that if an athlete makes a play that does make the highlight reels, he'll remember making it later in life. When he gets old, he'll still recall it. He'll recall his name, where he lives, and who his family is.

Victims of CTE often don’t.

How important is this for youths? Ask Dr. David Dodick, neurologist for the Arizona Mayo Clinic:

Youth athletes are more susceptible to concussions, period. The human brain doesn’t fully mature until about age 25. There are a lot of NFL pros younger than that. Impact related injuries before that age tend to remain problematic. They can make the young adult athlete more susceptible to additional head injuries than the older player.

Making Changes

  • Drugs from marijuana by-products that might create a ‘safety dome’ within the athlete’s cranium.
  • Programs to teach safe tackling at a young age.
  • The creation of a baseline testing program.
  • The release of sideline and follow-up protocols.
  • An increase of independent physicians on the sidelines.
  • Better helmets, as C.J. Anderson is now using, with a lot of new applications to come.

These and others are among the changes that the NFL is finally making. However late it has been in coming, I sincerely congratulate them for getting here.

Carroll and Cannabis

The World Anti-Doping Agency has said it does not need to catch out-of-competition marijuana users. That should include football players in the offseason. A decision should be reached regarding the amount of cannabis that can reasonably remain in the body after four weeks, with that as a legitimate level coming into camp.

At least one coach, the aforementioned Carroll, has publicly said that he'd like to see an NFL study on whether marijuana can help players. So would I. Is it a chemical advantage if used during practice or play? A disadvantage? Up until now, the research has usually split by who finances it. We need better research in this area.

An additional question: can you improve the rate of injury healing by using some form of cannabis/CBD? Several studies have suggested that it’s possible. Considering the number of studies which can now be performed, these are fair questions to ask. For years, the process of obtaining research grants in the US included a refusal from the government to fund any research that might find benefits from cannabis. There’s a lot to learn yet about its uses and its limits.

Regarding KannaLife Sciences, I hope the government will eventually open the field to other researchers. I’m glad that they’re studying this option. I’d just like to see a competitive situation for developing this treatment.

After all - the more minds at work on such a problem, the better the odds that it will successfully find a solution. The need for just such a solution is enormous.

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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