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‘I’m able to train again’: Lauren Jackson ditched prescription painkillers for medicinal cannabis

Lauren Jackson was just six-years old when she played her first game of competitive basketball for a local under-10 side in her hometown of Albury, New South Wales.

Unbeknown to those watching, this basketball prodigy was destined for greatness.

The first Australian player ever to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Jackson is regarded as one of the world’s best female basketballers of all time.

“I feel like a completely different person, which I am, but looking back I was so fortunate to have played basketball at that level and to have competed at such a high level for so long.”

A two-time WNBA champion with the Seattle Storm (2004 and 2010), three-time MVP (2003, 2007, 2010), seven-time WNBA All-Star and overall number-one pick in the 2001 draft, Jackson also won four Olympic medals (three silver and one bronze) and guided the Opals to a coveted World Cup victory in 2006.

But a degenerative knee injury cut her phenomenal career short, forcing her to retire in early 2016, denying Jackson what would have been a fifth Olympics in Rio.

Jackson announced her retirement in 2016, a knee injury cutting her career short.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

No fairytale ending

“It didn’t end the way I wanted it [to],” she said.

“There were highs and some pretty big lows as well.”

Jackson underwent countless surgeries during her career and often resorted to painkillers.

Chronic, debilitating pain around her knee, hip and lower back continued to plague her after she retired.

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After consulting her GP, Jackson explored alternative treatments to pain and was prescribed medical cannabis.

“It’s been incredible,” she said.

Jackson is part of a new Sport Advisory Board, run by Melbourne-based sports medicine company, Levin group, that develops pharmaceutical-grade medicinal cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain and concussion.

She hopes her personal experiences will help reduce the stigma associated with medicinal cannabis.

“It’s something that I personally believe in because of how my body has handled it,” she said.

Lauren Jackson announces her retirement from basketball.
Wanting to be the ‘best version of herself’, Jackson went off all painkillers and started using medicinal cannabis for her chronic pain.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

New kid on the block

Dr Rowena Mobbs, a neurologist from Macquarie University, claims there’s mounting evidence for cannabinoid therapies and medicinal cannabis use for chronic pain.

“But as far as management of head injury and concussion in general, this is really the new kid on the block,” she said.

Dr Mobbs works with concussion patients on a regular basis, including athletes with multiple concussion and repeated head traumas.

“We see this [medicinal cannabis] debate in epilepsy and pain management and understand people would want to try every option,” she said.

Medicinal cannabis was first raised as a potential therapeutic option in the 1930s and there’s evidence of cannabis first being used medicinally as far back as 400 AD.

“We’re yet to see the detailed trials come out for cannabinoid but certainly the theory is there in that many regions of the brain contain cannabinoid receptor Type 1.”

Another area being explored is whether it may have potential benefits, as an add on or third line therapy.

This is where alternative therapies are considered, after a patient develops resistance to initial and secondary treatment options.

“We see patients more than a year after their concussion, truly in the post-concussion syndrome, where they’ve tried post traumatic migraine therapies without success,” Dr Mobbs said.

Dr Rowena Mobbs from Macquarie University studies concussion injuries
Dr Rowena Mobbs from Macquarie University is an expert in concussion injuries.(ABC News: Michael Nudl)

“So, these people may wish to reach out to cannabinoid therapies and medicinal cannabis.”

Like any form of medication, there can be side effects involving short-term memory and concentration.

More severe psychological side effects can include paranoia and agitation, but these are rare at low doses.

For those wishing to explore medical cannabis for chronic pain or concussion related injuries, Dr Mobbs recommends chatting to your local GP and carefully considering all options.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jackson, who is finally loving life after basketball.

Australian Opeals player Lauren Jackson holds her bronze Olympic medal and a bouquet of flowers at the 2012 London Games.
Jackson is now starting to enjoy life beyond basketball, with her two sons.(Reuters: Mike Segar)

Though it may not be long before we see another basketball prodigy.

“My little bloke is actually playing hoops, which is pretty cool and I’m like the mum in the corner cheering him on.

“I have to stop myself and be like ‘Lauren settle down, he’s four years old’.”

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