Medicinal cannabis could help with the chronic pain experienced by retired athletes.
Rob Scott and Pip Christmass
Updated: 15 September 2020 7:10 am
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Medicinal cannabis trial in Perth and Melbourne
(Source: 7NEWS Perth)
As a massive class action builds over concussion in the AFL, another problem is emerging.
Heavy knocks are causing injuries that leave players suffering from a lifetime of crippling chronic pain.
But world-leading clinical trials in Perth and Melbourne have found daily doses of medicinal cannabis can provide relief to those whose pain is so severe they rely on large doses of drugs like morphine to get through the day.
Years of rough play has taken its toll for ex-WAFL and VFL player Ryan Gale.
“I don’t think I ever went one week without pain somewhere,” he told 7NEWS.
Like so many sports players, Ryan had pushed through the pain, hiding it from club doctors.
“Physios say, ‘are you alright?’,” Ryan said.
“(You say) yes you are alright, give me an injection and get me back on the field.”
It was a mindset that led to years of chronic pain.
But at just 33, he ended up needing a hip replacement.
Countless retired sportspeople have the same problems.
But Richard Hopkins, the managing director of Zelira Therapeutics, which is conducting a medicinal cannabis trial for retired athletes, says the sporting pain and injury is a “silent epidemic” not being talked about often enough.
Early results of the Zelira Therapeutics trial, being carried out at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and Emerald Clinics in Perth, have shown medicinal cannabis can safely provide relief to patients who would otherwise be relying on opioid-based medications such as morphine.
“Not only did we find that our cannabinoid formulation is safe for them to use and did not result in any serious side-effects, but we have also seen promising positive effects on their physical and mental wellbeing,” Dr Hopkins said.
Seven patients who used at least 60mgs of morphine or equivalent medication daily to treat chronic pain took part in Phase 1 of the study.
Patients were given a single dose of a medicinal cannabis formulation on the first day, followed by two doses daily for a further six days.
A questionnaire filled out by trial patients showed a “significant improvement” in pain interference scores, which measures how pain impacts a person’s function and daily life.
It doesn’t work for everyone and more research is needed, but for Ryan Gale, it’s been a game-changer.
“It’s so much better than taking some of the other stuff,” he told 7NEWS.
Dr Hopkins said the adverse side-effects of opioid-based treatment, including physical dependence, meant alternatives needed to be found.
“In the United States, an estimated 49,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2017 and that’s why it’s so important that we find alternative medications to treat chronic pain,” he said.