Players can be screened for concussion on the spot — and, if necessary, sidelined to prevent subsequent impacts, which are known to be especially dangerous.
“The role telehealth will play will be significant,” says Dr. Bert Vargas, director of the University of Texas Southwestern’s Sports Neurology and Concussion Program. “If we could extend expertise to those [underserved] populations, it could help identify athletes’ concussions and prevent further injury (due to) putting them back into play prematurely.”
Can cannibis help?
Scientists are also working to develop drugs to prevent or treat concussions. Although there’s no proof, some say that certain substances in marijuana, or cannabis, might be able to give football players a degree of neuroprotection.
Cannabis contains dozens of biologically active compounds known as cannabinoids, including some that preliminary research suggests may help limit the degeneration of brain tissue associated with CTE.
One 2016 study showed that the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can limit brain inflammation and the accumulation of harmful proteins in brain cells seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. “Since [Alzheimer’s disease] and CTE both have a very strong inflammation component and it is known from many other studies that THC is broadly anti-inflammatory, there is a chance it may help in both conditions,” Dr. Dave Schubert, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California and the senior author of the study, told NBC News MACH in an email.
Another cannabinoid that’s attracted researchers’ attention is cannabidiol, or CBD.
“We know that CBD is neuroprotective,” Dr. Bill Kinney, chief scientific officer of the Huntington, New York-based biopharmaceutical company Kannalife, told told Sports Illustrated in 2016. “We have seen effects in both protecting against cell death and increasing cell viability…We think CBD could protect the neurons from future injury and also help them repair.”
It will be years before drugs that protect the brains of football players are available, if they ever are. But as for evidence that cannabis could be the key, Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Boston emergency medicine physician who has studied cannabis and treats patients with it says, “We’ve got enough to pique our interest.”