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USA TODAY
Chris Strauss, @chris_strauss, USA TODAY Sports

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday that the league would consider allowing players to use marijuana to treat concussions and other head injuries if medical experts deemed it a legitimate solution.

Appearing with General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to announce the first 16 winners of the $20 million "Head Health Challenge," sponsored by GE and the NFL, Goodell didn't sway from his recent statements on use of the drug by active players.

"I'm not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine. And if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that," Goodell said. "Our medical experts are not saying that right now."

Colorado and Washington -- home states of the Super Bowl teams, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks -- are the only states where the drug is legal for recreational use. Twenty more, plus Washington, D.C., allow marijuana for medicinal use.

A report on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday estimated that between 50% and 60% of the league's players regularly use the drug, many for pain management. The show also interviewed an Israeli doctor who showed how treating mice with head trauma with marijuana resulted in drastic improvement with their symptoms.

While the league is not yet embracing that potential treatment, it is showcasing a number of potential innovations in diagnosis of head injuries. More than 400 applicants in 27 countries applied for $300,000 awards in the Head Health Challenge, which ended up going to researchers at a mix of 16 private companies and universities.

Representatives from three of the award-winners were in attendance at the league offices to discuss their projects.

BrainScope Company, based in Bethesda, Md., is working with Purdue University's Neurotrauma Group to enhance its hand-held traumatic brain injury detection technology.

The tool, which would fit over a player's head and could be used on a sideline, would provide a more specialized assessment of any brain injury suffered on the field.

BrainScope's device is under development for trial use only, meaning it would need to get FDA approval before it could be used in a practical setting.

The potential for that future prospect with BrainScope, as well as the evolution of blood tests, new brain imaging techniques and other groundbreaking studies, has the commissioner feeling positive about the next frontier in combating the league's concussion crisis.

"Not only are we going to get better at diagnosis, but we're going to make a difference in the prognosis and the treatment," Goodell said. "People are going to get better."

January 24, 2014

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