Head injury in football and pain management are two areas players could use cannabis to improve their health outcomes.
The National Football League announced in a press release on NFL.com that it had reached two joint agreements with the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA). The agreements regarded additional support and resources for pain management and behavioral health for players.
Injury is major problem in the NFL. As part of the initiative, medical experts will be assigned to help establish uniform policies on pain management, as well as review “research regarding alternative methods.”
A major alternative method under review will be cannabis pain treatments. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told NFL.com that “the committee’s research will include cannabis, cannabinoids, and CBD treatments.” However, Sills said in his statement that the research will be, “much broader and bigger than (marijuana). The goal of this effort is well beyond marijuana. It’s to look at pain treatment.”
Sills expanded on his views on cannabis for pain management in a separate interview with ESPN. In the interview, Sills said of the initiative, “We want to explore all of the strategies that help a player deal with acute and chronic pain. [….] With regard to marijuana, certainly there’s a lot of discussion about not only cannabis but cannabinoid compounds, CBD [….] That type of research will certainly be part of the mission of this committee and this program.”
Sills sounded his support for the research initiative in this interview. He went so far as to say that it was a, “Very historic and proud day”.
Players Support Sensible Cannabis Policy
The first NFL cannabis research initiative marks a change in the league’s stance. Discussions about the need for sensible, uniform cannabis policies have arisen after several disagreements between players and the league.
The NFL suspended Dallas Cowboys player David Irving for cannabis consumption earlier this year. Irving talked about the issue of cannabis and football injuries in an interview with the Tiki and Tierney radio show. He explained the prevalence of cannabis consumption in the NFL: “Eighty percent of each team participates in the use of medical marijuana–if not higher. If […] we take all the player reps from every team and we get all our players together and go do something together, what is the NFL going to do? […] It’s literally our jobs to get concussions every single day. We’re going to get hurt, and then they offer us opioids. I don’t agree with that.”
Super Bowl Champion Marvin Washington told CBS news that he believes that, “sensible non-prohibitive, non-degrading cannabis policy” will come to the NFL as early as the 2021 season. Washington noted that the federal government already holds a patent for CBD as an “antioxidant neuroprotectant.”
Irving’s concussion comment also alludes to the known neuroprotectant qualities of cannabis.
Cannabis Could Help Common Football Injury
The 2015 film, Concussion, starring Will Smith, tells the true story of the discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in NFL players. The condition, caused by repetitive concussions, can lead to neurological degeneration and dementia. All with these come aggression problems, mood dysregulation, and issues with cognitive functioning.
The incidence of CTE and other long-term effects of traumatic brain injury are much higher among football players than the rest of the population. Studies show that 61 percent of NFL players have experienced at least one concussion in their careers. This puts them at much higher risk of developing CTE.
Sports Leagues Adopting More Open Policies on Cannabis
The NFL is not the first professional sporting organization to recognize and research the efficacy of cannabinoid treatments. The National Hockey League (NHL) has already looked into CBD as a potential post-concussion treatment. The NHL also holds more progressive policies for cannabis consumption. This prevents disciplinary action against players that test positive for THC. Players within the NFL advocating for sensible cannabis policy look to the NHL as a model framework.
The joint research initiative is an important first step in sensible cannabis policy reform for the league. The NFL has taken a hard-line stance on all drugs in the past, so willingness to research shows progress.
The plant’s neuroprotective qualities may turn it into a revolutionary treatment to address injury in football. As an added bonus, its side effects are minimal compared to opioids. This is no doubt a big benefit for NFL players, who rightfully may be nervous about addiction. NFL cannabis advocates hope that the research initiative’s results will lead to a league-wide change in cannabis policy within a year.