Several former NFL players recently toured a cannabis facility specializing in cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis known for it’s anti inflammatory and calming effects. As part of the Denver Broncos Alumni Association, they are learning more about how CBD can ease the multiple health conditions that plague them in their retirement.
“Every day, I wake up in pain, from my ankles to my neck,” said Ebenezer Ekuban, a former defensive end who played for nine seasons. “It’s part of the territory. I know what I signed up for.”
The focus of the trip was to learn more about cannabidiol (CBD). Some data suggests that the cannabinoid can help with anxiety, pain, nausea and depression, and the federal government holds a patent on its neuroprotective properties. Newer studies have shown its effectiveness on treating inflammatory conditions.
The real effects of an NFL career have only recently gained some transparency. For decades, medical professionals have been treating pain from physical trauma with prescription drugs, which can include opioid painkillers, NSAID pain relievers and muscle relaxers. The mental demands of professional football can also call for anti-anxiety medications.
Unfortunately, these injuries are not temporary, and retired NFL athletes continue to take these medications years after their career has ended. Opioid painkillers were mainly developed for temporary pain, but these athletes require long-term treatment. A published study found the rate that NFL players consume opioids is four times what the rest of the population consumes. Both opioid painkillers and NSAIDs can cause kidney damage over time, but cannabis could be an alternative to these medications.
“This pain is never going away. My body is damaged,” said Eugene Monroe, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. “Managing it with pills was slowly killing me. Now I’m able to function and be extremely efficient by figuring out how to use different formulations of cannabis.”
Monroe was released from his contract three weeks after he openly admitted to using cannabis to treat his injuries. Since then, he has become one of the most vocal proponents of medical marijuana within the NFL community.
Players have had a difficult time convincing owners and NFL officials that cannabis is a safe and effective alternative treatment. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has openly expressed his skepticism of marijuana as medication.
“To date, [NFL medical advisors] haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players,” Goodell said. “If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that.”
Sue Sisley, a doctor who serves on the advisory board for the Korey Stringer Institute, suggested that the health and safety of the players may not be best served through prescription drugs.
“For instance, these players obviously receive mega-doses of opioids easily from their trainers and team docs. But when they want to seek out what they believe is a safer, less toxic alternative like cannabis, they’re fined and sanctioned.”
Monroe has experienced first hand the benefits of cannabis, and knows the science could support a change in NFL policy. “I would hope that the NFL stands by what it says it stands for — player health and safety, first and foremost,” said Monroe. “…there’s enough info out there right now for the NFL to make a smart decision.”
This post was originally published on May 9, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.