The NFL continues to move away from its longtime prohibitive stance on marijuana use for players. At a press conference this week, a representative from the league’s Joint Pain Management Committee, announced a commission made up of the NFL and its players union plans to offer $1 million in grants to fund studies to help players deal with pain without using opioids.
At one time, the NFL suspended players for any marijuana use. Ask Ricky Williams. But as more states have adopted marijuana legalization, many with NFL teams, that stance has been changing. The most recent collective-bargaining labor agreement included rules that allow testing for cannabis only during the first two weeks of training camp, a rise in the THC level for positive results and allows players to use marijuana during the offseason without penalty.
Those who test positive for drugs, exhibit behaviors that indicate drug misuse or self-refer themselves will be required to enter an “intervention program,” where they would receive an evaluation and treatment plan, and there would be no threat of suspensions.
Now it’s going a step further. Pain Management Committee (PMC) co-chair Dr. Kevin Hill, who has co-written “Medical Marijuana: A Clinical Handbook” about the plant’s benefits and risks, pointed to a lack of funding on pain research in general and said marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification adversely affects the level of research that’s even allowed. Too many opioids are finding their way to NFL players, and the league wants to know if there are better options.
“You have a lot of folks — both states and companies — who are profiting considerably through the sale of cannabis and other cannabinoids, and most of those groups are not contributing to the science,” he told Marijuana Moment, “I think that’s one of the great things about this request for proposals is that obviously the players are stakeholders, and we want them to have the best in terms of pain management, so we’re interested in trying to find out some of the answers that people have been saying that they’re interested in for a number of years.”
The league says it wants research proposals based around three areas of inquiry: The effects of cannabinoids on pain in elite football players (post-surgical and/or in daily pain management); the effects of non-pharmacologic treatments on pain in elite football players (post-surgical and/or in daily pain management); the effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance (e.g., psychomotor, reaction time, cardiorespiratory function) in elite football players.
The committee issued an initial request for information on the issue in February, and was given a series of primary research objectives that included exploring whether substances such as marijuana or CBD could replace opioids for routine pain management in players and the impact of cannabinoids on athletic performance.
During informational forums held by the joint NFL-NFLPA committee on CBD, or cannabidiol, last year, PMC determined that “though the science doesn’t live up to the hype,” CBD shows promise in the treatment of some forms of pain.
All professional sports are revisiting marijuana policies. MLB decided in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. The NHL is beginning to treat addiction and drug use as a health issue rather than a legal one and now prohibits all drugs but cannabis. A temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana amid the coronavirus pandemic may soon become permanent, and rather than mandate blanket tests, Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”
This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.