The Columbian / Associated Press

Cannabis among new concussion treatments

MIAMI — Bari Gold was never one for tutus.

When she was 4, Roberta Gold gave in to her daughter’s competitive spirit and enrolled her in a local soccer program. While the rest of the girls picked daisies on the field, Bari played fiercely against opponents. She joined a travel team at 9 and worked her way through school and club teams as a center back.

The first time she was hit in the head with a ball in December, the varsity junior captain of the Palmetto Senior High School team complained of a headache but blamed it on dehydration. Two games later, she was hit again. Bari, 17, couldn’t read the words on a U.S. history exam and walked into the wrong classrooms the next day.

“It felt like I was dreaming, but all the time,” she said.

Just two weeks ago, she was clocked in the head for a third time at recruiting camp and had to fly home.

While researchers, the media and even Hollywood in the movie “Concussion” have spent time and money bringing brain injury to the forefront of medical discussions, diagnosing and treating concussions in young athletes often remains a complex medical puzzle.

Florida physicians who specialize in concussions are expanding programs to tackle the issue. Advancements such as cannabis treatment and concussion-detecting goggles, along with concussion clinics, are facilitating quicker detection, treatment and return to sports.

Since 2012, the University of Miami Health System has partnered with 35 Miami-Dade County public high schools, prioritizing concussion prevention and treatment for the county’s 12,000 student athletes. It also works with around 10 private schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5 to 10 percent of athletes will experience a concussion in any given sport season.

Part of UHealth’s partnership with the schools is using the ImPACT test, which provides a baseline score for athletic trainers to use to make comparisons and diagnose concussions.

“It’s all web-based, so we can quickly look at it,” said Dr. Gillian Hotz, director of UHealth’s concussion program, who works with neurologist Dr. Kester Nedd. “It’s a starting point to start a discussion about concussion.”

In her research, Hotz found that it takes about 10 days for athletes to get over symptoms. Certain sports require more time. According to UHealth data: 15 days for baseball, and 13 for football, softball and wrestling.

Another tool helping young athletes at UHealth are concussion-detection goggles, which came out of a partnership with Neuro Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based software company. UHealth otolaryngologist Dr. Michael Hoffer helped develop the goggles after two military tours.

Technology for the goggles came from a rotating chair Hoffer used as a military physician. The chairs track eye movements and pupil dilation to help detect brain injury. However, the chair and the base it sits on cost nearly $250,000 and a Ph.D-level technician needs to operate it.

“Neuro Kinetics took what they did in the chair and put in a goggle,” Hoffer said. “Within five minutes, they can give a 95 percent accuracy without any tests being done beforehand.”

Hoffer said he is conducting a new study for cannabis concussion treatment alongside Hotz and a team of five other UHealth doctors. The doctors are testing a cannibanoid compound as a treatment for concussion-induced headaches, anxiety and pain.

Bari, who was treated at UHealth, will be returning to the field this fall as a captain. She has already started summer practices.