Understanding the Possible Long-Term Effects of Concussions (and How They're Treated)

Concussions are not simply for football players, with about 300,000 traumatic brain injuries occurring each year as the result of different sports alone. They’re common among children as the result of accidents in sports like hockey, wrestling, basketball, field hockey, football, and lacrosse most often, but of course, there are a number of ways any person can suffer a concussion. Whether it’s a car accident or an unexpected fall, there’s no determining or controlling how significant a brain injury can be or the lasting effects it can have on a person.

Of course, no concussion at all would be preferable, but the possible long-term side effects are worth looking out for even if they are rare. “At some level, concussions result in a brain injury, so we’re certainly worried about the accumulative effects of concussions,” says Gregory Hawryluk, MD, neurosurgeon and concussion specialist at the University of Utah Health. “We’re starting to learn that perhaps these seemingly minor blows to the head, when they’re accumulative, can lead to depression and behavior change. In fact, we think that some suicides may be linked to the brain damage that results from multiple concussions.”

The trick with longterm symptoms of a concussion is that they often develop hours and even days well after the injury occurred, making them easier to overlook and associate with the original concussion itself. Trouble concentrating, memory problems, irritability and other personality changes, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep disturbances, depression, and other psychological problems, and even disorders of smell and taste are all possible longterm side effects for about 20% of concussion patients, appearing as long as six weeks later. And the more concussions a person suffers from, the more likely they are to experience lasting effects of each new brain injury.

So how can you treat these symptoms? Or is it even possible? Most people with post-concussion syndrome can start to recover by resting and minimizing their stress. And it’s not uncommon for medical practitioners to treat post-concussion symptoms in the same ways they would treat other ailments with pain-relieving medications. And in extreme cases, antidepressants and psychotherapy may be considered.

Recently, researchers have also been exploring if CBD can be used to treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a  neurodegenerative condition often found in football players as the result of constant and repeated head trauma.

“Based on a little research, a lot of anecdotal reports and our knowledge of the endocannabinoid system, we believe CBD may be good for pain relief, headaches and anxiety, which are all common symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury and concussion,” says  Dr. Gillian Hotz, the director of the concussion program at the University of Miami. Hotz hopes to one day develop a concussion treatment pill with the aid of CBD, helping reduce inflammation in brain cells, specifically in people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

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