The NFL marijuana policy has been heavily scrutinized in the past and that scrutiny is taking an interesting turn. It’s almost ironic two of the biggest controversial topics in their respective worlds might actually end up hand-in-hand in the same conversation.
Concussions and their lasting effects like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) have been a heated topic in the sporting world, especially in the NFL where a massive lawsuit against the league claiming negligence began a few years ago. CTE is a degenerative brain disease common in athletes who have experienced repetitive brain trauma. Marijuana use and legalization have been a hot bed for conversation for longer than most people can remember.
According to a patent held by the United States government;
Cannibinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties…[and] are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following…trauma.
The use of cannabis as not only a form of treatment, but also as a preventative measure could greatly reduce the effects of CTE’s in NFL players. The aforementioned lawsuit, combining hundreds of actions brought against the NFL by more than 5,000 former players, is still ongoing despite a $765 million settlement being rejected in 2013 which lead to the most recent settlement of a potential $1 billion being put on hold following an appeal by former NFL player Craig Heimburger and his wife. The latest settlement would provide up to $5 million per retired player for serious medical conditions.
While the settlement will satiate the former players dealing with CTE, it doesn’t do much for the current and future players. In an open letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Dr. Lester Grinspoon urged the research into cannabis and CTE’s to begin, despite the large initial cost.
The extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’ ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment. It’s highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company will get involved in studying cannabis as a treatment for CTE, because the plant [and it’s natural components] can’t be patented.
For a league worth well over $50 billion, shelling out several millions of dollars to delve into something that could save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of current and future football players seems a no-brainer. Considering Marvin Washington, a former Super Bowl winner and decade-long veteran of the league, is a strong advocate for the incorporation of medical marijuana in the NFL, I’d say the issue resonates throughout the league of past and present.
The use of medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia currently, meaning only seven teams would encounter issues; the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns in Ohio, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs in Missouri, Indianapolis Colts in Indiana, Carolina Panthers in North Carolina, and New Orleans Saints in Louisiana. While state laws certainly would throw a curveball into any potential medical marijuana implementation by the NFL, I think between the lobbying power of the league and the time it would take before anything comes to fruition, these five states’ current laws likely won’t be an issue.
Showing an initiative to research the benefits of marijuana and it’s effect on concussion-related traumatic injuries is exactly what the NFL needs to do at a time where the league’s public image is at a low after the domestic abuse and Deflategate scandals of yesteryear.