NFL & Cannabis

Football is one of the most demanding sports, being an NFL player entails encountering countless injuries. NFL players visit trainers, sports therapists, and doctors and many of them rely on Vicodin or other opiates for relief. According to a study published online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times than that of the general population. An opioid is a synthetic version of opium. Examples of opioids would be oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and methadone. Dr. Wilson Compton, who served from 1995-2002 as a treating clinician in the NFL’s substance abuse program was quoted as saying the study “clearly indicates we’re not doing enough to care for our wounded and impaired athletes.” Researchers found of the NFL players who admitted using prescription painkillers while playing in the NFL, 71 percent admitted misusing the drugs and 15 percent admitted to misusing prescription pain medications within the past 30 days.

Calvin Johnson, who played with the Detroit Lions was quoted as saying “until recently, the NFL team’s medical staff handed powerful and addictive opioids “like candy.” This led to more than 1,500 former NFL players, not including Johnson, to file a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. The suit, alleges that doctors and trainers often distributed painkillers without examinations or prescriptions and that players were deliberately misled about the dangerous side effects.

Currently, the NFL does have regulations in place that state, marijuana use can lead to a suspension. A recently published article in Sports Illustrated provided points the general public may not know about the current procedures in place for failed marijuana drug tests. The NFL does have an intervention program in place for athletes that fail their drug test. The majority of players that do receive a suspension have had multiple failed drug tests. For every one suspended athlete, there are 5 to 10 others that anonymously enter and exit the intervention program.

According to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, states that have implemented medical cannabis programs possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. “Using both standard differences-in-differences models as well as synthetic control models, we find that states permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not.”

Former NFL tackle, Kyle Turley is one example of a man with chronic pain from playing in the NFL. During his eight years and beyond of playing in the NFL, Turley turned to using painkillers daily. He became addicted to the meds and consequently became suicidal, depressed, and having violent urges. Turley claims that medical marijuana saved his life, once he started medicating with marijuana instead of painkillers, his psyche improved.

Medical marijuana can be as effective as prescription drugs in treating pain, it is non-habit forming, and does not always have psychoactive effects. CBD has no effect on brain function while opiates have been shown to decrease brain function. Marijuana is safer than using opioids to treat pain. Marijuana users do not build up a tolerance to the drug, (i.e. needing higher doses to achieve the same effect) the way opioid users do. There has also never been any documented case of death due to marijuana overdose.