NFL To Study Cannabinoid Impact On Pain Management

America’s premier football league is funding research into cannabinoids and athlete health.

Earlier this month, the National Football League (NFL) announced that it would award $1 million in research funding to two medical research teams at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and University of Regina (UR).

According to the NFL, the studies will examine cannabinoids’ effects on pain management and neuroprotection from concussions in elite football players.

The NFL’s awards conclude the first research proposals request that the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC) initiated in June 2021.

According to the NFL, the calls for proposals resulted in 106 submissions.

The NFL Research and Innovation Committee used the National Institutes of Health scoring proposal format to select ten finalists to give oral presentations and provide the PMC with written materials.

The NFL says the PMC focuses on facilitating research that clarifies and improves potential alternative pain management treatments for football players.

“As with the league’s broader approach to health and safety, we want to ensure that our players are receiving care that reflects the most up-to-date medical consensus,” says NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills. “While the burden of proof is high for NFL players who want to understand the impact of any medical decision on their performance, we are grateful that we have the opportunity to fund these scientifically-sound studies on the use of cannabinoids that may lead to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact the pain management of our players.”

The First Study

Dr. Thomas Marcotte, Dr. Mark Wallace, and their colleagues at UCSD will lead the first study, Effects of Cannabinoids on Pain and Recovery from Sports-Related Injuries in Elite Athletes.

UCSD says the first trial focuses on assessing therapeutic efficacy and potential adverse effects of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) compared to placebo.

According to UCSD, athletes will vaporize treatments after sustaining game-related injuries.

Phone-based apps will monitor outcomes.

UCSD says study findings will provide crucial preliminary data about cannabinoids’ possible effectiveness in treating sports-related injuries and inform future studies.

“Our team is excited to receive this funding to conduct a systematic, ‘real-world, real-time’ study with professional athletes,” says Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Mark Wallace. “And which should shed further light upon the many anecdotal reports that cannabis is helpful in reducing post-competition pain.”

The Second Study

Dr. J. Patrick Neary and Researchers at the University of Regina will lead the second study, Naturally Produced Cannabinoids for Pain Management and Neuroprotection from Concussion and Participation in Contact Sports.

Dr. Neary is a professor and exercise physiologist at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina.

According to UR, the second study’s focus is determining whether cannabis and hemp-based cannabinoids can safely manage pain and reduce prescription medication use, including opioids in athletes with post-concussion syndrome.

An additional goal is assessing cannabinoids’ neuroprotective properties to reduce the incidence or severity of acute and chronic concussion in professional football players.

UR says the research team has extensive experience in concussion pathology and medical cannabis research.

The team consists of cerebrovascular and neuro-physiologists, clinical psychologists, pharmacokineticists, and physicians from the Universities of Regina, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

According to UR, the research will be foundational in exploring alternative medical care to treat brain trauma and musculoskeletal pain in professional football players.

Potentially Life-Changing Research

Dr. Neary says preventing and treating concussions is at the center of his research.

“That’s why I am excited to have the support of the NFL on this project,” says Neary. “Our interdisciplinary research team believes that different cannabinoid formulations found in medical cannabis have the potential to benefit athletes suffering from the acute and long-term chronic effects of concussions. Our research will also work to show that cannabinoids can be used as an alternative to opioids for pain management.”

Neary says the study may potentially change the lives of current and former NFL players and those of anyone who may suffer from a concussion.

The NFL says study results funded by its program may affect alternative pain management strategies but not its jointly-administered Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse that is currently in place.

The policy is in place under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

According to the NFL, athletes outside of the organization will participate in the studies funded under its award.

NFL will not permit its players to participate.