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Nate Jackson (right) speaks on marijuana use by professional athletes.

Former Pro Athletes Push Cannabis for Pain Relief for Former Players, Urge Leagues to Let Current Players Use Too

Pain has been a part of the NFL player’s experience since there was an NFL.

David Royse | LedeTree

But with a firestorm of new attention on the issue of injuries and long-term damage to NFL players’ bodies, particularly brain injuries, a group of former professional athletes says a number of them long ago figured out the solution – but weren’t allowed to pursue it, or at least get caught pursuing it.

Former NFL players, offensive lineman Eben Britton and receiver Nate Jackson, said Wednesday that during their playing days, and after, they used marijuana successfully to help them deal with pain from injuries, without the side effects of the powerful opiates many players are prescribed, and said the NFL and other professional sports leagues should legalize its use.

Nate Jackson (left) speaks on marijuana use by professional athletes as Eben Britton listens. Photo: Kelley Detweiler, Athletes For Care
Nate Jackson (left) speaks on marijuana use by professional athletes as Eben Britton listens. Photo: Kelley Detweiler, Athletes For Care

“They’re feeling the pressure of having to find solutions,” to the glare of the spotlight on injuries in the NFL, Britton said. “Cannabis provides that solution.”

Britton and Jackson joined former NHL hockey players Darren McCarty and Riley Cote as representatives of an organization called Athletes For Care, on a panel on the use of cannabis for pain management and as an antidote to opiate side effects, at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in Boston, Mass.

It’s not just a compassion issue for players, who are dealing with long-term effects of a sometimes brutal sport and the culture of treating pain with powerful opioids. It could help the league weather a growing storm, said Jackson.

“The NFL has a couple lawsuits on their hand, and they have a billion dollar concussion settlement,  they’ve been sued over reckless dispensing of opioids … so they have a lot of things to consider,” said Jackson who retired in 2008 after playing six years with the 49ers, Broncos and Browns. “I do believe that they’re watching what we’re talking about.”

Britton agreed that officials in professional sports, particularly pro football, are paying attention.

“There’s movement,” said Britton, who played for the Jaguars and Bears in a six-year career that ended in 2014. “The money it can save the leagues in lawsuits and health care, this is something they need to take seriously.”

“This is the future of sports medicine,” added Cote, who played for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers from 2006-2010.


The players said not only did marijuana help ease their pain, it helped them to be less reliant on potentially addictive opioids.

“Pills  made me feel insane,” Britton said. “I had a number of bad experiences with opiates – withdrawal symptoms three days into prescribed use, waking up at three o’clock in the morning with the shakes, can’t sleep … need more pills. With cannabis, I never felt any of that.”

The organization wants to make former players more aware of medical marijuana, and while it would like to see more interest from the players’ unions and leagues for current players, Cote said that will take time for research to make them more comfortable.

“They always want to throw the science card out there, and there’s not enough (scientific data) out there,” Cote said.  “You’re not going to get this to current players until there’s enough data. Until we have that data, the (players’ unions) and the leagues are just going to take the stance that this is an illicit drug.”

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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