Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Lauren Jackson was only six years old when she played her first match in competitive basketball for a local team under the age of 10 in her hometown of Albury, New South Wales.

Unaware of those who saw this basketball prodigy was destined for greatness.

Jackson is the first Australian player ever to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and is considered one of the world’s best female basketball players of all time.

“I feel like a completely different person that I am, but looking back, I was so lucky 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 a 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.

Lauren Jackson poses for a photo with the Australian team after announcing her retirement from basketball.
Jackson announced her retirement in 2016, a knee injury made her career short.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

No adventure ending

“It did not end the way I wanted it to [to],” she said.

“There were highs and some pretty big lows too.”

Jackson underwent numerous surgeries during his career and often resorted to pain medication.

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

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After consulting his GP, Jackson explored alternative treatments for pain and was prescribed medical cannabis.

“It’s been incredible,” she said.

Jackson is part of a new Sports Advisory Board, run by Melbourne-based sports medicine firm Levin group, which develops medical cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain and concussion.

She hopes her personal experience will help reduce the stigma associated with medical cannabis.

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

Lauren Jackson announces her retirement from basketball.
To be the ‘best version of himself’, Jackson dropped all painkillers and started using medical cannabis for his chronic pain.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

New boy on the block

Dr. Rowena Mobbs, a neurologist at Macquarie University, claims there is growing evidence of cannabinoid therapies and medical cannabis use for chronic pain.

“But when it comes to dealing with head injuries and concussions in general, this really is the new boy on the block,” she said.

Dr. Mobbs works regularly with patients with concussions, including athletes with multiple concussions and recurrent head trauma.

“We see it here [medicinal cannabis] debate about epilepsy and pain management and understand that people would try every option, “she said.

Medical cannabis was first raised as a potential therapeutic option in the 1930s, and there is evidence that cannabis was first used medically as far back as 400 AD.

“We have yet to see the detailed tests for cannabinoid, but the theory is certain there that many areas of the brain contain cannabinoid receptor Type 1.”

Another area being investigated is whether it can have potential benefits, such as a supplementary or third-line treatment.

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, really in the post-concussion syndrome, where they have tried post-traumatic migraine therapies without success,” said Dr. Mobbs.

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

“So these people might want to reach out to cannabinoid therapies and medical cannabis.”

Like any medication, there may be side effects that involve short-term memory and concentration.

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

For those who want to explore medical cannabis for chronic pain or concussion related injuries, Dr Mobbs recommends that you chat with your local doctor and carefully consider all options.

It’s a feeling repeated by Jackson, who finally loves life after basketball.

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

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

“My little guy actually plays hangers, which is pretty cool, and I’m like the mom in the corner cheering on him.

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

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