Persistent vomiting, three-day bouts of confusion, unprovoked rage, self-harm, suicidal impulses -- those are just some of the horrifying symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that afflicts up to 99 percent of retired NFL players thanks to the severe concussions that have become everyday injuries in pro football.
CTE is jeopardizing the lives of players as well as the reputation of the NFL, but medical marijuana could restore both to good health.
A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed the prevalence of CTE among retired NFL players. After analyzing 111 brains of deceased players whose bodies were donated for research, scientists found that 110 of the 111 specimens (99 percent) had developed CTE.
Researchers noted their results might be somewhat skewed since the families of those donors suspected that their loved ones had developed CTE. But there's no denying that CTE is a real and prevalent threat to the lives of NFL players. But the disease often begins to take root in their teens.
According to the study, approximately 3 in 14 high school players (20 percent) develop CTE, which can begin showing symptoms in their mid 20s. The rates rise to 48 out of 53 college players (90 percent) and climb steadily among long-tenured NFL players. That means every game increases the risk of developing the lethal condition, which can't be detected until after it claims the player's life.
CTE can only be diagnosed after death. So there is no way to identify and cure the illness before it takes hold, but there might be a way to mitigate and perhaps reverse its symptoms.
Medical Marijuana Could Help NFL Players
There's no cure for CTE, but cannabis could protect the brain from the damage caused by repeated concussions. The neuroprotective properties of cannabis could make players more CTE-resistant, according to Lester Grinspoon -- a Harvard professor of psychiatry. And tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- also stimulates parts of the brain involved in healing after a traumatic brain injury.
So marijuana might not only reduce but perhaps reverse the effects of CTE.
That's why retired players like Eugene Monroe and Kyle Turley are calling on the NFL to repeal the league's ban on cannabis and support medical marijuana research that could lead to a CTE breakthrough.
"I suffer from traumatic brain injury from playing this sport. I've seen this firsthand in multiple scans of my brain," Turley told Freedom Leaf last year.
Turley added that allowing athletes to use medical marijuana could save the lives of players like him as well as the sport itself. "If we want to save football, then we've got to start looking at solutions, not just count concussions. Cannabis is that potential savior."
Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is strongly opposed to letting players have a puff after practice. And even if Goodell was willing to consider lifting the NFL's cannabis ban, it's unlikely that he'd support researching medical marijuana as a treatment for CTE since the league doesn't like to touch that controversial issue.
"The NFL directs funding only to research they approve of," Dr. Ann McKee -- the senior author of the groundbreaking CTE study -- told NPR. She doesn't expect to receive "NFL support" for her research because "the results are considered too damaging" to the league.
So before taking on CTE, the NFL needs to tackle its deadly case of denial.