Medical Marijuana Company Could Address NFL Head Injury Issues With New Drug

By McCarton Ackerman 11/11/14

KannaLife Sciences has teamed up with former player Marvin Washington to raise awareness for a potentially beneficial drug to protect against CTE.

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A new drug that could protect the brains of NFL players is currently in the research stages, but it’s coming from an unlikely source in the form of a medical marijuana company.

KannaLife Sciences, a New York-based company led by CEO Dean Petkanas, obtained a license from the National Institutes of Health Office of Technology to commercialize a medical marijuana patent that would bring a neuroprotective drug to the market. The drug would focus specifically on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive generative disease of the brain often found in athletes who have a history of repeated brain trauma.

“We've found in some clinical research that cannabidiol, CBD, acts as a neuroprotectant,” said Petkanas. “In the parlance of pharmaceutical sciences, we could be using that as a prophylaxis against repetitive concussive injury.”

KannaLife even teamed up with former NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington to help raise awareness about the medicinal benefits of CBD. Washington, who currently suffers from CTE stemming from his playing days, said that benefits of a marijuana-based treatment for CTE would outweigh any of the negatives. He also argued that even though a CBD-based drug would still result in a positive drug for an NFL player, it wouldn’t have any psychoactive effects that would allow them to get high.

“Everybody calls football a contact sport—it's a collision sport…this is not going away, because the players are getting bigger and faster and stronger, and so they need something to protect the head,” said Washington. "[The NFL] is saying they need to follow the signs—we want them to lead the signs, because they're the biggest fish in the water out there.”

More than 4,500 former NFL players have filed a lawsuit against the league by claiming that they downplayed and even covered up the long-term effects of repeated concussions. Washington acknowledged that the NFL has done more to address this issue in the last two years, but could be doing even more.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this year that he would consider using medical marijuana as a neuroprotectant if sufficient research could justify it, but he is against approving recreational marijuana use even for NFL players competing in states where it is legal. However, the NFL Players Union accepted a revised drug policy last September that increased the threshold for a positive marijuana test from 15 nanograms per milliliter of urine to 35 ng/ml.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.