As cannabis policies change all over the world this year, and 33 million Americans admit to using it in some form or another, the NFL has been, well, uncooperative. Despite Charlotte’s Web Botanicals’ When the Bright Lights Fade campaign, former players supporting cannabis consumption among current players and those off the field, and Eugene Monroe’s early retirement from the NFL, no changes to cannabis policy have even been hinted at. Until now. According to the Bleacher Report, unidentified NFL ownership executives want to “Do away almost completely with marijuana testing” due to the extent of the policies. According to the article, the NFL’s policies are much stricter than the NBA’s other those of other sports as well.
Cannabis Policy in the NFL
Most professional sports are very clear and very strict on drug use among their players, and game suspensions, mandatory rehabilitation programs, and even fines are not rare in the NFL, the NBA, or in other Olympic athletes. The NFL last revised their drug policies in 2014, when they increased the permitted carboxy THC levels allowed from 15 nanograms to 35 nanograms – this would allow players to smoke about one cannabis joint per week. While this sounded promising, the variables involved in trying to stay under that 35 nanogram limit are extensive – factors like player body fat concentration and the potency of particular cannabis strains would be involved. According to Allen St. Pierre of NORML, the tiny difference between 15 and 35 is basically undetectable. As a comparison, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s threshold is 150 nanograms, while the major league baseball organizations’ is 50 nanograms. Ricky Williams noted that the 35 nanogram threshold would have kept him in the NFL and prevented rehab programs.
The revised policy did include a few good ideas, like requiring “more violations to reach the advanced discipline stages for marijuana than for cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, opioids, phencyclidine, or MDMA.” If a player is found to have any drugs in his system, he will begin a 90 day intervention program; if he tests positive during the 90 days, and immediate three week fine and unannounced testing up to 10 times per month will be imposed.
Cannabis Policy in the NBA
Until 2014, the NBA was three times more lenient than the NFL on cannabis consumption; with the new NFL policies in effect, they are still more lenient. As NFL players call for more leniency for cannabis consumption in football, NBA players are doing the same. Jay Williams, a former Chicago Bulls guard, has begun supporting cannabis policy reform in basketball, noting that he was addicted to Oxycontin (a painkiller and opioid) for more than five years because “It’s easy for doctors to prescribe.” Williams estimated in March that a whopping 75-80% of professional NBA players consume cannabis; “It’s something that the whole world is becoming more progressive with. So it’s about time some of these entities do as well.”
In the NBA pre-season, rookies are tested randomly three times, and reasonable cause can result in more testing. Al Jefferson lost $613,636 during a 10-day suspension for positive cannabis testing – an astronomical price for smoking a joint. As Jefferson found out, he was put in a mandatory Marijuana Program, and a second positive test for an NBA player results in a $25,000 fine and more programming; a third positive test results in a five-game suspension.
Cannabis Policy in Other Sports
For Olympic athletes, as for many other professional athletes, human growth hormone (HGH) has been the major motivator for drug testing. Unfortunately, the testing for HGH has been questioned, and doesn’t seem to be very effective; yet professional athletes continue to be stigmatized, fined, and even suspended for cannabis consumption, a plant that eases pain, encourages relaxation, and may protect their brains. In the National Hockey League (NHL), players are not punished for drug use – simply reviewed and recommended for the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Olympic athletes cannot use cannabis during the games, but before and after it is up to their discretion. In 2013, the laws were changed to remove cannabis from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. The current threshold for testing is 150 nanograms.
Who Supports Changing the Cannabis Policy in the NFL?
Many former NFL players, such as Jake Plummer, Eugene Monroe, Nate Jackson, Leonard Marshall and others support lifting or changing the restrictions on cannabis use in the NFL in light of recent scientific and medical evidence that cannabis can help players and possibly even protect them from future injury. Derrick Morgan of the Tennessee Titans has spoken out about his desire to support cannabis research for NFL players, as well, even appearing on the Katie Couric Show with Eugene Monroe. Heather Jackson, the CEO of the volunteer nonprofit organization Realm of Caring in Denver, Colorado, started her business after her son Zaki’s seizures were completely stopped using 100 mg of Charlotte’s Web, a CBD oil available from CW Botanicals.
How Can Cannabis Help NFL Players?
Ask any NFL player or former NFL player; playing football is violent and rough on your body. According to Mueller Sports Medicine, Inc., the most common football injuries include Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), leg/knee injuries, shoulder/arm injuries, back/spine injuries, ankle/foot injuries, concussions, and neck injuries in that order. The repetitive physical and mental stress of playing professional football can result in concussions and CTE later in life. Complications of CTE include the gradual loss of brain tissue over time as parts of the brain atrophy or enlarge. CTE may cause dementia; depression; impaired judgment; and impulsive, erratic behavior – this relatively new medical discovery is only evident in the deceased brain – in other words, living players cannot be diagnosed yet.
There is some scientific evidence that cannabis consumption can help slow the effects of dementia, or even prevent it. An extract of cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) is non-psychoactive and has been proven to have neuroprotective qualities – in other words, CBD can help protect the brain from traumatic injuries such as those sustained in many sports, including American football. Animal studies have found that CBD reduces brain injury in newborn pics and rats.
Although the NFL has yet to make any announcement about its cannabis policy, you can bet that the organization will continue to feel pressure from the public, its players, former players, and even politicians when it comes to cannabis policy reform. To support the reforms, you can donate to the When the Bright Lights Fade campaign here.