Calvin Johnson partners with Harvard to research benefits of marijuana on CTE

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) stretches ahead of the NFL football game between Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs Wembley Stadium in London,  Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Calvin Johnson and business partner Rob Sims are partnering with Harvard for CTE and marijuana research. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Former NFL players Calvin Johnson and Rob Sims are partnering with Harvard University to research the benefits of marijuana on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), ESPN’s Michael Rothstein reported.

Johnson, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver known as Megatron, and Sims, an offensive lineman with the Seattle Seahawks and Lions, run a brand called Primitive. Johnson and his wife, Brittney, got approval for a marijuana dispensary in February, per the Detroit Free Press. Michigan legalized marijuana in November.

The partnership is about “providing hope,” Sims said, and is focused on managing pain.

Does cannabis help CTE in NFL players?

Studies show “intriguing promise” in using marijuana-based medicines to aid brain injuries, from Alzheimer’s to CTE. The research by Primitive and Harvard will be around marijuana as a neuroprotectant.

"We can be in position to develop a treatment for CTE," Sims told ESPN. "There's been suggestion that CBD (cannabidiol, a compound in cannabis) and stuff can help cognitive disease, and we think that potentially there could be a treatment going forward that we can produce."

Johnson and Sims will give at minimum a six-figure donation to the International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute at Harvard for the study, per ESPN. Harvard, in turn, will do medical research for Primitive, run clinical trials for CTE research and pain management, and provide quality assurance for the company’s products.

They said the research partnership will be what helps their business flourish and help people. The clinical trials could begin in early 2020.

How did Johnson, Sims get into marijuana biz?

CTE, a brain injury linked to repeated hits to the head, can only be diagnosed after death. Reports by Boston University in 2015 and the New York Times in 2017 showed the vast majority of football players brains studied revealed CTE.

In an interview with Green Entrepreneur last month, Johnson and Sims said they each got into the business because of being subscribed opioids for pain during their playing days. Johnson would rather take a holistic approach to his body, he said, and Sims experienced first-hand the pull of the drug after a 2008 surgery, he said.

Sims told ESPN he’s seen the “good, the bad and the ugly of what it looks like” after NFL retirement through his father and father-in-law, and the goal is to provide hope and improve the game.

Johnson, 33, played his entire nine-year career with the Lions from 2007-15. He retired with 11,619 receiving yards, including nearly 2,000 in 2012. Sims, 35, was with the Seahawks from 2006-09. He played with Johnson in Detroit from 2010-14.

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