In the first major study of opioid use among current and former NFL players in 2011, investigators found that more than half of opioids used during their NFL career and 71% reported abuse of drugs. Additionally, 15% of gamers admitted to current misuse compared to only 5% who said they had used painkillers “as prescribed” during their game time.
In response, a growing chorus has turned into a clarion call among current and former players to enable alternatives to opiate use, including via cannabis derivatives. More than a decade after the movement began, the NFL announced last week that the league would provide $1 million for research into cannabinoids for pain management. Chosen from more than 106 proposals, the money will be divided between two studies. Medical researchers from the University of California, San Diego will study the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and a medical team from the University of Regina in Saskatchewan will study its impact on neuroprotection against concussions in football players elite.
Athletes for CARE, a non-profit organization that advocates for the health and well-being of not only former players but everyone in sanctioned sports, celebrated the decision but said it hopes this is only a first step.
“It is particularly promising that research is focused on pain management and as neuroprotection,” the organization said in a statement. “These are two issues that athletes in many high impact sports face for the rest of their lives. We hope this is just the beginning of investing in finding a solution for athletes as well as anyone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury or has long-term pain to manage.
Former player Marvin Washington, a member of the Athletes for CARE board of directors, wants to steer clear of addictive chemicals for the health of his peers in the football brotherhood.
“CBD is used by my old buddies as an alternative to diazepines, which are essentially poisons,” Washington said. “They are addictive. There are 20,000 former NFL players and they are four times more likely to abuse than society at large.
Todd Herremans, founding member of Athletes for CARE and former player, has a unique perspective on cannabis use after being in the league’s drug addiction program three times in his career for dealing with marijuana.
“It was an eye opener for me after I tested positive and got into the drug program,” Herremans said. “I started abusing alcohol more frequently and taking more pills. This fostered a tougher lifestyle because it was more accessible to me when I wasn’t allowed to use cannabis.
Cannabis is still a banned substance in the NFL, although the policy on the use of marijuana was relaxed in the last collective agreement due to the advocacy work of former players like Washington and Herremans.
Under this recent labor agreement, players who test positive for marijuana are fined based on the number of positive tests instead of being suspended. The timing of testing has been reduced to the first two weeks of training camp from April through August, and the amount of marijuana needed to produce a positive test has increased fourfold. It’s a slow but steady return to a more natural pain remedy, Washington said.
“Nobody uses it to get high. They smoke to feel better,” Washington said. prescribed in the country. As human beings, we have been using herbal medicine for thousands of years, from shamans to village doctors. This is the new road back to the old.
The research projects will last three years. Washington sees this as a positive first step in a direction the NFL must pursue.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Washington said. “But we’re talking about a $13 billion industry that just contributed $1 million. Once the NFL puts its resources behind this, it can normalize the use of cannabinoids and truly lead the herbal revolution.
Herremans hopes this action will lead the league to conduct a scientific study on the cannabis plant.
“The end game would be for the NFL to be a champion of this and push for more money in using all the different parts of the plant.”
For Athletes for CARE, this is positive progress. Time will tell how well these defenders can bring the league to accept and defend what they see as a big part of the future of pain management for collision-based sport.
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