Psilocybin and Cannabis for Protecting and Healing the Brain

Psilocybin and Cannabis for Protecting and Healing Athletes’ Brains

Last April, we published an article about using psilocybin for improving athletic performance.  In that article, we noted that Matt Barnes‘s pregame ritual in the NBA included using cannabis.  Similarly, NFL defensive lineman Shaun Smith reported that he uses cannabis to focus for games, explaining, “it’s like I’m in the zone.”

Other accounts, such as Dock Ellis’s no-hitter suggest that psychedelics (e.g., psilocybin, LSD, etc.) may provide some advantages for athletic performance.

Now the medical community is investigating benefits of these drugs that go beyond improving an athlete’s performance on the field.  Specifically, physicians are recognizing the benefits of psilocybin and/or cannabis for treating or preventing some of the detrimental effects of athletic competition– such as head trauma or concussions.

Psilocybin and/or Cannabis for Treating Concussions

Recently, some physicians, including Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School have asserted that natural substances like cannabis and “magic mushrooms” could provide benefits for treating and preventing brain injuries associated with head trauma, e.g., concussions.

As a neuroprotectant, cannabis is exceptionally effective in treating many of the lingering symptoms of a brain injury.  Cannabis is far more effective than conventional pharmaceuticals. In fact, there are no approved pharmaceutical drugs for concussions.

The data are so compelling on the use of cannabis for brain injury that Dr. Grinspoon urged the NFL to drop its urine testing program for cannabis so that players could seek its therapeutic effects.1

In addition to cannabis, psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) was approved by the FDA for clinical trials to help treat intractable depression 2, a dangerous and common symptom of traumatic brain injury. Psilocybin is recognized as one of the safest recreational drugs ever known. As a result, scientists at Johns Hopkins have recommended rescheduling it and increasing its availability.

A Future for Cannabis and Psychedelics?

In sum, two natural substances that were classified as having a high potential for abuse and no recognized medical benefit have now come to the forefront as the most promising and least harmful drugs available for some of the most intractable mental disorders known today.

Hopefully, our improved understanding of cannabis and psilocybin (particularly the cost-benefit analysis) will lead to improved access to safe and effective treatments for head trauma, such as concussions.

In the United States, the medical use of cannabis and/or psilocybin will likely require formulations comprising known amounts of known drugs because most physicians in the U.S. are unlikely to recommend that their patients consume unknown amounts of unknown molecules.  Accordingly, many physicians are unlikely to recommend that patients consume naturally occurring cannabis and/or “magic mushrooms” because of the inherent chemical variability in those naturally occurring organisms.


1. Grinspoon L. The NFL Should Combat Concussions with Cannabis. Motherboard. February 2014. Accessed December 17, 2018.

2. Gander K. FDA approves magic mushrooms depression drug trial. Newsweek. Published August 23, 2018. Accessed December 17, 2018.

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