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The Concussion Report: Cannabis as a Remedy, Rugby Head Injuries and Potential New Laws

3 Apr, 2019

By: Michael Popke

When Canada legalized recreational marijuana in October 2018, National Hockey League officials said the new law wouldn’t affect the league’s drug-testing policy run in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association.

Maybe so, but now the league appears to be embracing the use of cannabis as a way to treat post-concussion neurological diseases in former NHL players.

The NHL Alumni Association, NEEKA Health Canada and Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp. have created a clinical research partnership to investigate the effectiveness of cannabinoids in retired players who suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and progressive dementia as a result of past concussions.

According to a news release, “this study will undertake the rigorous science needed to establish the medicinal value of cannabis when combined with other proven treatments amongst this highly-afflicted group of elite athletes and potentially improve their ability to interact with family, friends and their communities.”

“Canopy Growth has agreed to cover the costs of a double-blind randomized study, which will involve about 100 former players in the Toronto area and take about a year to produce results,” according to tsn.ca.

“This is a crystallizing moment,” Milwaukee-based neurosurgeon Amin Kassam, who has been consulting with the NHL Alumni Association, told tsn.ca. “We’re going to be using high-resolution imaging, biomarkers, ocular, vestibular testing. We have a big need, the right agenda and the right people. The NHL alumni are willing to commit their privacy and their souls to help others in the community, and I think Canopy is the real deal when it comes to the medical science. They have the science. Their facility … is best in class. It’s as good a bio laboratory as you’ll find in the world. They are not growing weed in the backyard.”

“Hopes are high,” former Vancouver Canuck Andrew Alberts, whose playing career ended after suffering a concussion in 2013, told the Vancouver Sun. “I think guys are going to heavily lean on this at the beginning to see if it can help and provide some treatment.”

In other concussions-related news:

  • Don’t overlook rugby in the concussion discussion. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, two-thirds of veteran rugby players surveyed in the United States said they have suffered concussions — most of them more than once — and many didn’t get proper care afterward. “Many of these go unreported, and even more are reported inappropriately,” says Johnathan Chance Miller, an orthopedic surgeon at Washington University in St. Louis who was the study’s lead author. “The majority of athletes did not follow a [recommended] return-to-play protocol. … Physicians unsurprisingly are not the first point of contact. [Players] most frequently reported concussions to coaches, teammates, and athletic trainers. Physicians came in fourth.” As reported by MedPageToday.com, Miller and colleagues sent an online survey to about 115,000 active members of USA Rugby, and about 2,900 took part in the survey. Participants were 15 years and older; the average age for male and female respondents was 33 and 25, respectively.
  • A new state law that takes effect July 1 in Virginia will require schools to regularly update their concussion education policies for coaches, student-athletes and parents. Under the law, the Virginia Board of Education must collaborate with brain-injury and other experts to update state guidelines on policies related to concussions every two years. Using those guidelines, local school boards must then revise their own policies and procedures regarding concussions and return-to-play decisions. “Concussions can be a serious medical concern and should not be taken lightly,” State Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, who sponsored the unanimously passed legislation, told The Virginia Gazette.“It is critical that we keep our guidelines up to date to ensure that we protect the health and wellbeing of our student-athletes.”
  • On March 18, Canadian sports officials unveiled a national concussion strategy. Officially titled “Sport-Related Concussion Guidelines for Canadian National and National Development High-Performance Athletes,”the standardized strategies were developed collaboratively by the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Own the Podium (which strives to create high-performance sports programs for Canadian athletes). Among the highlights: Removing an athlete from training and competition for immediate evaluation if a concussion is suspected, and transporting an athlete to the closest emergency facility for assessment if he or she suffers a severe head or spine injury during play. The plan also covers criteria for concussion management and return-to-play strategies. “The purpose of this is to provide a standardized approach to concussion recognition, assessment and management so a high-performance athlete will receive the same level of care across the country,” Brian Benson, chief medical officer and director of sport medicine at the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary and the Benson Concussion Institute, told CTV News Calgary.
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