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The Clinic: Can Marijuana Save the NFL?

Earlier this year, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School and author of Marijuana Reconsidered and Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine penned an open letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking him and the league to strongly consider funding research into whether or not cannabis and/or cannabinoids might prove useful in treating Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head” according to Boston University’s CTE center.

Noting that marijuana has proven neuroprotective properties, and that repetitive brain injury has led to serious problems, including a rash of suicides, among former pro football players, Grinspoon speculated that such research could provide the key to making the game much safer.

“As both a medical doctor and one of millions of fans who enjoy professional football as a spectator sport, I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the growing specter that many of the athletes I cheer from the sidelines will one day pay the steep price of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) due to concussions and other repetitive brain injuries incurred in the course of their profession,” Grinspoon wrote. “Already, many doctors and researchers believe that marijuana has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data. But unfortunately, the extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment, and despite the great promise many now see in cannabinopathic medicine, it’s hard to imagine who else has both the motive and the means to provide such funding.”

So far, however, despite making some positive statements regarding medical marijuana, Goodell and the NFL have not made any moves towards directly supporting such research. But now a private company called Kannalife Sciences has won approval from the US federal government to develop, test and perhaps even sell a cannabis-derived medicine for treating CTE.

“We’re really looking at the athlete’s brain,” Thoma Kikis, Kannalife’s chief visionary officer, recently told, saying the plant-based pharmaceutical company will be searching for both preventative treatments and ways to help those already afflicted with CTE. The company expects to begin phase 1 clinical trials sometime next year, after seeking investigative new drug approval from the FDA.

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