Treating Alzheimer’s May Begin With Testing Cannabinoids On Football Players

It could become the first neuroprotective drug in the U.S.

Neuroscientists are currently developing drugs derived from cannabidiol, one of the primary active compounds in cannabis, to treat chronic pain caused by brain injuries like concussions—the most common injury suffered by football players. Researchers suspect the same compounds also actively protect against chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated brain trauma, which is at the center of football’s ongoing public health crisis.

Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical startup Kannalife is leading the charge, armed with a federal patent awarded to the Department of Health and Human Services in 2003 proving that cannabidiol is a useful neuroprotectant. In February, the company published a study—designed with the help of Bennet Omalu, whom Will Smith portrayed in the 2015 film Concussion­—which showed the synthetic cannabidiol prevents damage to diseased hippocampal neurons, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

“One of the effects of cannabidiol is decreased inflammation,” explains Ronald Tuma, who leads Kannalife’s testing team at Temple University. “Cannabinoids can play a role in mitigating secondary nervous system trauma.” If this experimental treatment passes clinical trials, it could become the first U.S. neuroprotective drug, carrying the potential to treat everything from CTE to Alzheimer’s to poststroke pain syndrome.