Both the NFL commissioner and chief medical officer have voiced support for researching whether cannabis can be effective and safe for players to manage pain.
For the first time, the National Football League (NFL) appears to be open to investigating cannabis as a pain management tool for players. The league wrote a letter to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) saying that it’s willing to work together to study marijuana’s efficacy and safety for pain relief.
“We look forward to working with the players’ association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players,” said Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications.
The NFL currently bans the use of marijuana. Players are regularly tested and are subject to discipline measures for positive tests. A level of 35 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter of urine or blood is counted as a positive test.
The NFLPA, which has urged the league to reevaluate its policy on cannabis use, has formed its own committee to study marijuana as a pain management tool and potential treatment for traumatic brain injury. Players believe that being permitted to use cannabis would allow them to reduce their intake of dangerous painkillers. The player’s association yet to respond to the league’s offer.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has claimed in the past that the league sees no medical benefits to cannabis, recently made comments further suggesting what appears to be a shift in the league’s attitude.
“If pain management is something that medical marijuana can address responsibly, that’s something that our medical community is evaluating,” Goodell said recently at a forum at the Denver Bronco’s headquarters in Dove Valley. “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. 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 studies that have investigated cannabis for pain management so far have been promising, and have suggested cannabis is effective for treating pain in both acute and chronic conditions. Goodell has said in the past that the league will consider changing its substance abuse policy once enough research is there. He and Allen Sills, a Vanderbilt University neurosurgeon and the NFL’s chief medical officer, believe that even more research is needed.
“Certainly the research about marijuana and really more particular cannabinoid compounds as they may relate to the treatment of both acute and chronic pain, that is an area of research that we need a lot more information on and we need to further develop,” Sills told The Washington Post.
“I think that’s part of what we hope to accomplish together working together with the Players Association,” Sills added. “I think this is really important because I like to talk about that our approach to caring for players is really holistic. We want to talk about health and safety issues that affect the whole player experience. And certainly pain management is a big part of that.”
While the NFL’s letter to the player’s association focuses on the potential use of marijuana for pain, the substance may also be beneficial for providing much-needed neuroprotection. A study published last month found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive blows to the head, in the brains of 99 percent of deceased NFL players. Culture and preclinical studies have found evidence that a particular cannabinoid found in cannabis – cannabidiol (CBD) – reduces brain swelling and inhibits the build-up of brain deposits for improved recovery.
“We appreciate the studies and we actually not only appreciate them, we funded a lot of these studies. What we all need is more information,” Goodell said. “There is one thing that is clear among this medical community, that we have a lot more questions than we have answers. We need more research and I think we have led the way on that front. We’ve not only led with research, but we’ve led with rule changes to our game, we’ve led on awareness to the injuries, we’ve led on how we can develop new equipment that we make our game safer for our players.”
Kannalife Sciences, Inc. (“Kannalife”), Medical Marijuana Inc.’s portfolio company, is developing a CBD-based pharmaceutical treatment for CTE. Kannalife holds two licenses with the U.S. National Institutes of Health for U.S. Patent 6,630,507 “Cannabinoids as Antioxicants and Neuroprotectants,” which are in use as Kannalife develops its novel CBD therapeutic drugs.