NFL Is Examining Marijuana as a Healthier Alternative to Prescription Drugs

While the NFL has established staunch policies prohibiting marijuana use, the league is investigating whether marijuana is a safer pain reliever than opioids, according to a new report.

The National Football League is open to cannabis as a healthier and viable alternative to opioids, says a new in-depth report from Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post. According to Kilgore, league officials have actively inquired with researchers to get more information on marijuana as a pain-reliever.

The league’s investigation is in response to several former NFL athletes that have been actively advocating for players to be able to use marijuana for pain management. Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, just recently released by the Baltimore Ravens, has been leading the charge. The veteran player recently donated $80,000 to John Hopkins to support cannabis research and penned an essay on the matter, published by Players’ Tribune.

Opioids, which NFL athletes are now legally using for pain relief, reduce the intensity of pain signals to the brain and are highly addictive. More than 16,600 deaths occur in the U.S. each year from painkiller overdose.

“The NFL relies heavily on opioids to get players back on the field as soon as possible, but studies have shown medical marijuana to be a much better solution,” Monroe wrote in his essay. “Medical marijuana is safer, less addictive and can even reduce opioid dependence. I’m not asking the NFL to prescribe players cannabis. I’m calling on the league to remove its testing protocols for cannabis. It just makes sense.”

Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon recently spoke at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo at New York’s Javitz Convention Center, claiming he wishes he used more marijuana for pain relief when he was a player.

“There’s so many uses to this plant,” McMahon said. “Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from [painkillers] and there’s not one case of people dying from the hemp plant.”

Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan added his voice to the conversation when in an exclusive interview he told Katie Couric that, “I think for the NFL to say that cannabis does not benefit the long-term health of its players without actually having gone and done the research — I don’t think that’s an accurate statement.”

Morgan also took to Twitter to encourage the NFL to take action on medical marijuana, writing “it’s time for the @NFL to take an HONEST look into the potential medical benefits of Cannabis for its players.”

Now it appears that the league is listening. According to Kilgore’s report, officials within the league reached out to the marijuana researchers Monroe is funding.

“Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president for player health and safety, and neurological surgeon Russell Lonser, a member of the league’s head, neck and spine committee, spoke Thursday afternoon on a call with the researchers Monroe has funded to learn more about their study,” Kilgore wrote in his report. “The league officials, while not endorsing Monroe’s stance, requested the talk and were eager to hear more about it.”

Monroe and a collection of former NFL players advocating for marijuana also believe that cannabis can help treat concussions and reduce traumatic brain injuries related to repeated hits to the head during competition.

McMahon has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and suffers from memory loss, headaches, and depression caused by the repeated concussions he experienced over the years. His support for marijuana being removed from the list of banned substances is based on scientific evidence that suggests that cannabidiol (CBD), a natural compound found in cannabis, helps minimize brain damage.

“There’s been some extraordinarily compelling, preclinical work that’s demonstrated that CBD is incredibly effective at helping to limit the extent of brain injury, which is really very intriguing and promising,” Staci Gruber, Director of McLean Hospital’s MIND program and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Yahoo! News.

Studies have found that CBD reduces brain swelling and neurological impairment following an impact brain injury, which in turn improves recovery. It’s been shown in a patent by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to have significant antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. While CBD from marijuana is tightly restricted, CBD found naturally in hemp is legal throughout all 50 states in the U.S.

Marvin Washington, another former NFL player and Sports Advisory Board member for Medical Marijuana Inc.’s subsidiary Kannalife™ Sciences, is also actively encouraging the league to research cannabis’ therapeutic effects related to concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Kannalife™ Sciences is currently developing a cannabinoid-based treatment for CTE through their license on the National Institutes of Health patent covering the use of cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.

Although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell indicated in February that he believes there still isn’t enough evidence that establishes marijuana as a proven alternative for professional football athletes, the fact that the league is open to investigating cannabis’ therapeutic effects is a notable start.

“They are interested in learning more about the potential for cannabinoids to help current and former players, as is evidenced by them taking the call, and also expressed a desire to learn more,” Marcell Bonn-Miller, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. “They are definitely showing genuine curiosity, and they are definitely not throwing up roadblocks.”