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Could Cannabis One Day Be Part Of NFL Pain Relief Playbook?

As the sun set this past Sunday on the opening day of the NFL season, more than a few gridiron gladiators were almost certainly leaving the field in pain.

By David Royse | LedeTree.com

Pain is as much a part of the NFL game as the shotgun formation.

Managing that pain may arguably now be more important than ever, as teams invest millions of dollars in even average players. But there’s one way of easing it that remains off limits for those in the league: medical marijuana is not only not allowed for players – even in states where it is legal – its use will get players penalized by the league.

But that may change before too long.

As the NFL begins its 2017-18 season there are signs of growing acceptance of marijuana for the treatment of pain.

The most important of those signs came last month from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said during a speaking engagement in Denver that the league could be interested in at least studying whether cannabis should be part of the league’s pain management strategy.

“If pain management is something that medical marijuana can address responsibly, that’s something that our medical community is evaluating,” Goodell said at a  forum, according to a story in the Denver Post.

“We just proposed to our union in the last month or so that we put some research money behind that to see how we could implement that … if they can address pain management in an effective and safe fashion,” Goodell said, according to the Post. “That’s something that I assume will get a lot of discussion, but hopefully it involves a lot of research and medical opinions that can help us make the best decisions.”


The NFL has also expressed an interest in working with the the NFL Players Association, the players’ union, on a study of marijuana for pain, the Washington Post reported this summer. The union is also interested in easing the league’s punishment rules for players who test positive for marijuana, even if they’re using it recreationally instead of as part of a pain management program.

While the use of marijuana is still banned in the NFL, a number of former players have said they used cannabinoids to manage post-career pain and have advocated for their use as an alternative to opioids, which are highly addictive. Jim McMahon, who quarterbacked the Bears to the 1986 Super Bowl title, said medical marijuana helped him end an addiction to opioid painkillers.  Former offensive lineman Kyle Turley has been telling a similar story.  (More on players advocating its use herehere, and here).

The league’s substance-abuse policy – which is part of its collective bargaining agreement with the players union – bans marijuana and comes with penalties for testing positive for more than 35 nanograms of THC per milliliter of urine.

About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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