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South Florida Doctor Explores 'Concussion Pill' To Help High School Football Players

University of Miami's Concussion Program
Dr. Gillian Hotz with a patient.

The University of Miami’s Sports Medicine Institute concussion program is testing a medical marijuana pill for high school football players. 

According to an analysis conducted by Education Week, more than 250,000 high school students suffer traumatic brain injuries each year, which impair their ability to succeed and learn in school.

Dr. Gillian Hotz, Director of the University of Miami’s Concussion program at the university’s Sports Medicine Institute, is working with high school sports programs across Miami-Dade County to ensure that athletic trainers know the latest concussion protocols. Her team is also conducting innovative research on concussion treatment, including a pill that contains cannabidiol, a pain relief chemical found in medical marijuana. Dr. Hotz joined Sundial to talk about the latest medical advancements.

This is part of a series of conversations on high school football.

WLRN: Do you get the sense the players, coaches and parents are talking about [concussions]?

Hotz: No, I still think it's the "C" word. In Miami-Dade County, we are able to train and have specific workshops for athletic trainers. They (the trainers) are better at identifying the symptoms and really knowing their players because they're there full-time. I think the identifications are better and the information to the coaches are certified. The information is out there and it's repeated on a yearly basis.

What kind of symptoms are you supposed to be looking for that may tell you players may have had a concussion?

The whole myth is you don't have to have a loss of consciousness to have a concussion. Just the acceleration, deceleration or more of like a whiplash type injury could cause symptoms. It's really watching the best you can. If somebody does take a hard hit, they get up slow, they look dazed, they walk to the wrong side of the field, those are the type of kids that you really have to sit on the bench and start evaluating and examining. It's probably best to have them not return to play and be checked out.

What is the protocol in South Florida?

We have a six-step protocol and it all starts before the season. It's the education and the workshop for the athletic trainers, directors and coaches. After is baseline test, which looks at your ability for memory, reaction, time and processing speed. We get that before the season and then if there is a concussion within 72 hours we'll have another test where the athletic trainer puts the athlete in front of a computer. There is also a clinic appointment.

There were some stories that have come out in the last couple of years about a concussion pill. What is that exactly?

That's a big research study we have here (at University of Miami's Sports Medicine Institute). We're really interested in looking at the effects of CBD -- cannabinoid. We hear a lot about medical marijuana and the positive effects this has but nobody's really studied it and we know that CBD is really good for pain, anxiety and headache. So why not do a systematic review of this and really find out if this something good that we could be using? We really are at the beginning of studying this. We're just in preclinical.

Watch a video on concussion prevention in high school sports with former NFL player Raymond Crittenden.