Dozens of former NHL players will be given CBD as part of a study examining whether the cannabis compound might help alleviate symptoms of brain injuries.

“We see a lot of athletes who have chronic pain and have other problems related to repetitive brain trauma,” neurosurgeon and concussion expert Dr. Charles Tator told CTV’s Your Morning Monday.

“We are reasonably optimistic that cannabis and especially the CBD part of cannabis can relieve a lot of that suffering.”

Approximately 100 former NHLers with chronic brain conditions will take part in the study, which will get underway this summer. Half of them will be given CBD, while the other half will be given a placebo. All will continue to undergo other recommended treatments.

Researchers will monitor all of the former players for one year, looking for any signs that the treatment has affected their conditions.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other concussion-related conditions can contribute to depression, PTSD and even dementia. It has been estimated that 10 to 15 per cent of people who suffer from sports-related concussions develop chronic symptoms.

“It’s really rather sad when you see these giants of sport having to deal with terrible headaches and emotional issues as well -- there’s quite a bit of anxiety and depression and PTSD in athletes that has gone unrecognized,” Tator said.

Athletes with chronic pain issues have traditionally been prescribed opioids or other analgesics. Tator said doctors are hesitant to treat patients this way -- particularly when possible brain conditions are involved -- and would prefer a safer alternative.

“Opioids are very effective in relieving pain, but the problem is they have this terrible side effect of causing addiction and dependence,” he said.

The study is being conducted by researchers at Neeka Health, along with cannabis producer Canopy Growth and the NHL Alumni Association.

“This complex and multidimensional study will give us an unprecedented understanding of the interactions between [CBD] and the brains and behaviours of former NHL players living with post-concussion symptoms,” Canopy chief medical officer Mark Ware said in a statement.

Researchers at the University of Miami have found that a combination of CBD and the NDMA anesthetic improved the cognitive functions of animals that had suffered brain injuries. A human trial is now underway.

Tator is also hoping to study the potential benefits of cannabis as a treatment for post-concussion conditions himself. He recently applied for a grant to fund a project exploring the effectiveness of CBD on post-concussion headaches.