MMA Fighters Start Clinical Trial Exploring Weed as Brain Injury Treatment

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An Australian healthcare firm is asking mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters to help them test the neuroprotective properties of cannabis.

Starting next quarter, Impression Healthcare (IHL) plans to launch a clinical trial to investigate whether their proprietary cannabinoid formula can help protect MMA fighters from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Head traumas are a critical issue in contact sports like the AFL or NFL, and players who suffer TBI or concussions are at risk of developing CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), an ongoing condition that can cause cell death and other consequences long after the initial injury.

“The best evidence available today suggests that CTE is not caused by any single injury, but rather it is caused by years of regular brain trauma," said IHL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sud Agarwal, according to The Market Herald. “By treating concussion in the days following those injuries, IHL will have effectively created a CTE prevention plan that lessens the effects of TBI in the short term whilst potentially lessening the patient’s risk of developing CTE."

The company plans to recruit 50 Australian MMA fighters with recent head injuries who show signs of moderate to severe concussions. Each subject will be asked to take a dose of IHL-216A, the company's proprietary cannabinoid medicine, twice per day. The researchers will measure the severity of the fighters' symptoms using MRI scans, concussive measuring mouthguards, and neurocognitive tests.

These tests will determine whether the subjects are having issues with their memory, attention, language, reaction time, perception, or other mental processes. The tests will be conducted at multiple points after the initial trauma, to determine whether or not the medicine can effectively reduce patients' risk of developing CTE.


The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) recently allowed pro-athletes to use THC-free synthetic CBD. Under these rules, the subjects enrolled in the study are allowed to continue participating in fights while using this experimental medicine.

CBD is quickly becoming a popular recovery tool for athletes, due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Past clinical studies have also found that this nonpsychoactive cannabinoid can also help protect the brain from traumatic injuries. That's why many researchers have interest in exploring whether CBD can help protect athletes from TBI.

Last year, a Canadian cannabis company partnered with the UFC to conduct a study into whether CBD could help MMA fighters recover from post-fight injuries, pain, and inflammation. Another Canadian company recently recruited retired pro hockey players to test whether CBD could treat brain trauma, and in the US, the NFL has convened two joint committees to test whether medical marijuana could help its players cope with chronic pain.

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