There are an estimated 200,000 concussions annually in Canada and over 3,000,000 in the United States.1 These numbers are estimated to be lower than the actual amount that occur, due to misdiagnoses and/or the injury not being reported. A concussion may result from shaking the brain within the skull and, if severe, can cause shearing injuries to nerve fibers and neurons.
Sports related concussions are one of the most difficult diagnoses as there is no single test to definitively determine diagnoses.1 Often, players will not report a head injury to their coach. Concussions occur in all sports with the highest incidence in football, hockey, rugby, soccer and basketball.2
We connected with a Pro-Bowl NFL Tight End, Jordan Reed, about how he has used cannabis to manage his chronic pain from injuries, surgeries, and traumatic brain injuries.
**It is recommended to see a medical professional if you have injured your head during any sport or recreational activity before resuming playing to ensure you don’t worsen your injury. This article is not medical advice.
Apollo: What has cannabis helped you with the most, in terms of pain relief?
J.R.: Over my professional career and really throughout my life, I’ve had surgeries and dealt with chronic pain issues associated with the sport of football. Cannabis has played a key role in mitigating the long-term effects aligned with those scenarios. It has also helped me therapeutically in the treatment for concussions, and traumatic brain injuries.
I felt cannabis was definitely effective in lessening my symptoms and getting me back on the gridiron sooner rather than later.
Apollo: How long did you use it before you noticed any relief or symptom management from cannabis?
J.R.: I felt relief right away. Edibles usually take a little while longer for you to feel the effects; around 20-30 minutes after usage from my experience.
Post Concussion Syndrome
Anywhere from 40-80% of those who receive a concussion will develop post-concussion syndrome.3 This can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months and can include symptoms such as migraines, pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, loss of concentration, and more. Because of this, patients are often prescribed pharmaceuticals, which can deliver unwanted side effects while putting the individual at risk for addiction if used for an extended period of time while recovering. Second Impact Syndrome (SIS) is a brain swelling that can occur when a 2nd concussion is sustained before complete recovery from a previous concussion.4
Apollo: What would you say to anyone who’s experienced a brain injury who may be considering medical cannabis to treat their symptoms?
J.R.: I would definitely tell anyone considering medical cannabis to start looking into it, autonomously; put in the research for themselves. Explore how it affects the endocannabinoid system, because the endocannabinoid system is a system within our body that has to do a lot with the brain, and there’s research out there that suggests that cannabis can dramatically help towards treating traumatic brain injuries. See for yourself what’s out there, read as much as you can to make the choice on your own.
Medical Cannabis For Post-Concussion Recovery & Healing
Medical cannabis has been a hot topic over the last 20 years in the world of brain health, because of its analgesic and anti-anxiety properties, while having a very low side-effect profile (especially CBD). Cannabis also has the ability to increase the amount of blood that travels to the brain, bringing both increased oxygen and nutrients to assist with healing.4 Common symptoms of post-concussion syndrome can be addressed with medical cannabis through utilizing the naturally occurring endocannabinoid system in our bodies, assisting with migraines, nausea, pain, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and more.
A traumatic injury to the brain releases toxic chemicals that cause some of the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. Marijuana can help clear those chemicals and protect the brain from further damage due to its neuroprotective qualities. Referring to medical marijuana, Dr. Jeffrey Hergenrather said that, “In my opinion, there is no better drug for the treatment of anxiety disorders, brain trauma and post-concussion syndrome.”5
Apollo: Do you find any relief with the use of THC in particular? CBD or both?
J.R.: I use both and I believe that each cannabinoid is useful for a certain system in your body as it affects your body in different ways; and that in the case of THC and CBD, both are beneficial.
Research on Concussions & Medical Cannabis
A study from the Dent Neurological Institute in Buffalo, NY, which has treated thousands of patients for chronic pain, reviewed charts from 66 patients who were treated with medical cannabis for concussion symptoms. They found that 80% of the patients “experienced significant improvement in activity level and symptoms.”6
The researchers used the Quality of Life After Brain Injury Score (QOLIBRI).
Mood: 63% moderate improvement, 20% significant improvement
Sleep: 53% moderate improvement, 23% significant improvement
Headache: 60% moderate improvement, 14% significant improvement
Quality of Life score: score of 46 for those using medical cannabis, score of 19 for those not yet started on medical cannabis.
In another scenario, Dr. Charles Tator, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital working in the Canadian Concussion Centre says that he is “reasonably hopeful” for the potential of cannabinoids and post-concussion issues. “One of the first double-blind studies exploring the effects of cannabis and concussion is expected to be conducted by NEEKA Health Canada, the NHL Alumni Association, and Canopy Growth Corporation, a cannabis company. This exciting new study will explore the efficacy of cannabis on reducing post-concussion syndrome impairments, such as depression, PTSD, and progressive dementia, among 100 previous NHL players.”7
With so many concussions and traumatic brain injuries occurring annually, finding relief after the incident is a major part of the recovery process. With post-concussion syndrome having the ability to not only cause physical pain, but mental anguish as well, cannabis may be a suitable option for those looking for relief from inflammation, migraines, anxiety, insomnia, and nausea.
We always recommend speaking to an Apollo healthcare practitioner before beginning to use medical cannabis for its therapeutic benefits, especially after a head injury. If you would like to learn more or schedule your free appointment at Apollo, we offer virtual appointments Canada-wide and we are available to assist you 7 days a week. You can reach us by phone at 877-560-9195 or you can book an appointment here by filling out a form on our website.
Want to learn more about brain health and cannabis? We have a great video blog here where we cover the interactions of cannabinoids in the brain while discussing conditions including dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and more.