NFL Players Calls for Cannabis Policy Reform

NFL Players Calls for Cannabis Policy Reform

The NFL has a strict policy on the use of marijuana, but one NFL player is making the argument that it’s not only needed, but a better solution for the consistent ailments that plague professional football players.

“Your job automatically gives you the symptom of chronic pain,” said Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, a member of the NFL since 2009. “You’re hitting each other as hard as possible every single day in practice. Your body is in pain a lot of time.”

Questions are being raised about the NFL’s policies on treating injuries and the chronic conditions they create. The long-term effects of being a professional athlete in the NFL have recently inspired documentaries and movies based on the pressures of the sport, which can cause brain damage, permanent nerve damage, and prolonged body pain associated with injuries and arthritis.

Conventional treatments for these ailments are typically opioid painkillers, corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory prescription drugs, all of which have long-term side effects. Monroe is making the argument that cannabis is a much safer alternative, especially in light of the opioid epidemic that is affecting the rest of the United States.

“All over our country people are addicted, and that’s happening in our locker rooms,”

said Monroe.

Previous NFL players have admitted to using marijuana during their career, as well as in their retirement. “Cannabis has been part of my football experience since I started,” said Nate Jackson, who played in the NFL from 2003 to 2008. “I never liked the pills and medicated with cannabis.”

Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon is using cannabis in his retirement to treat brain damage, early-onset dementia and chronic pain, all of which are associated with his time in the NFL. Of the 100+ Percocet tablets he took per day, McMahon said, “They were doing more harm than good.”

The NFL insists they need more research to determine if there is a medical benefit for their players.

“I agree there has been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view,”

said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Until they do, then I don’t expect that we will change our view.”

A nonprofit group called Realm of Caring has undertaken the task of researching how cannabis can help NFL players.

In partnership with Johns Hopkins University, Realm of Caring is trying to raise money to conduct more research on the precise ailments of NFL athletes and how cannabis could help their symptoms. Ryan Vandrey, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, wants to explore these options.

“We want to go in and learn as much about the players. Who’s using? What kind of benefit? How does it benefit (players) versus traditional treatments? Are there other associated effects?”

There have been studies indicating that cannabis can help heal the brain, and the U.S. government even holds a patent on the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids, the chemical compounds responsible for the medicinal efficacy of cannabis. The patent states, “…cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”

Still, the NFL requires even more data before considering a reversal of their policy on marijuana.

“The NFL will need to have legitimate information before they remove marijuana from the banned substance list and ultimately not hurt their product in the field,”

Monroe said. “But there’s opportunity in that space also, for the NFL to get involved and maybe lead efforts.”

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Should NFL Players Be Able to Use Marijuana to Treat Pain?

Should NFL Players Be Able to Use Marijuana to Treat Pain?

Injuries are part of the job for players in the National Football League. Many players are injured every season. Often, those injuries result in severe pain, and for some it becomes chronic, life long suffering. The NFL is famous for prescribing pharmaceutical pain pills for such injuries, but many players would prefer a more natural form of pain relief. Should NFL players be permitted to use marijuana to treat injuries now that the plant is legal for medical use in over half of the United States?

The NFL told CBS News that it’s not changing the policy to include the use of medical marijuana because neither the league nor the union have been instructed to do so by medical staff, but it would be considered if it was recommended.

The NFL did loosen the rules for marijuana use a bit in the revised Policy and Program on Substances for Abuse. The allowable level of THC was raised from fifteen nanograms to thirty-five nanograms. One nanogram is one billionth of a gram. A player used to risk being suspended for an entire year if he tested positive for marijuana during the yearly drug test. Under the revised policy, the suspension time is reduced significantly. Now, players risk being suspended for up to ten games. Policy changed to reflect what the players are asking for, and the movement that is quickly sweeping across the nation.

A revised set of rules allowing NFL players to treat pain and many other conditions with marijuana may be a possibility in the not so far future. Elections this November will be a glimpse into the future of marijuana in the United States. If retail marijuana sales are legal in multiple states by 2016, it will be difficult for the NFL to reprimand players for using it.

photo credit: Doug Pensinger

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