Soccer players may consider cannabis after reading new study

Image of soccer ball in net

New research shows that chronic cannabis consumption could offset the effects of repeated blows to the noggin. Big news for professional footballers–in the American and British sense of the word.

Authors of a recently published study set out to understand how the cannabis plant may help athletes recover from exercise and repetitive injury associated with their sport. They focused on soccer players; specifically comparing the neurological impact of doing lots of headers in a row for cannabis consumers and non-consumers.

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The modulatory role of cannabis use in subconcussive injury was sponsored by Research Funds from the Indiana University Office of Vice President for Research and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. These entities only provided financial support and had no other impact on the study.

Who did the study look at?

To understand more about the role of weed in the mind of a baller, researchers divided 43 soccer players into weekly cannabis consumers and non-consumers based on their admissions. The study included 70 participants originally, but 23 were excluded due to scheduling conflicts or COVID-19 diagnoses.

Those who remained were split into 24 consumers and 19 in the non-cannabis control group. The average age of the cohort is 20, and those who partake prefer to smoke, vape, or eat edibles. Participants vary in gender, a majority are white, and 17 of them wear glasses.

Researchers wanted to understand how cannabis could protect the brain from non-concussive head injury–like repetitively taking a soccer ball to the dome. They did this with a controlled heading model that maintains uniform intensity and frequency of 20 headers in a row. This created a standardized model, so the team could study the risk of oculomotor impairments and neurodegenerative diseases from these minor head injuries.

Measuring the neurodegenerative risk of soccer headers

To gauge the oculomotor function (when eyes adjust and coordinate during movement) of post-header soccer players, researchers selected a near-point of convergence (NPC). This is the closest point to the face before a person’s eyes see double. The NPC of non-cannabis users continued moving farther away up to 72 hours after the controlled heading, but cannabis users’ NPC stopped growing after 24 hours.

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S100B markers were analyzed as well. A higher concentration of the protein marker is associated with brain damage and neurodegenerative diseases. Cannabis groups saw a reduced amount of S100B compared to the non-cannabis participants. That means less risk of neurodegenerative impact.

The widely-studied Neurofilament light chain (Nfl) blood test assesses sports-related concussions, neurodegenerative diseases, and neuronal damage. There was no notable difference in Nfl serum levels between groups.

What does it all mean?

These results are promising for soccer players looking to reduce the risk of long-term brain damage. Chronic cannabis consumers have lower markers for long-term neurodegeneration. This is coupled with less vision impact following a non-concussive head injury based on this study.

The freshly published research also poses a new hypothesis in the cannabis science and neurological medicine conversations. More research on cannabis and its anti-inflammatory properties in the brain is warranted. At the very least, it could fuel continued cannabis restriction abolishment in professional sporting leagues.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.