As the National Football League season kicks off this weekend, controversy continues to swirl around the nation’s most popular sport – and we’re not talking about kneeling or the flag. We’re talking about cannabis.
According to at least one former NFL player, nearly 90 percent of current players consume cannabis. And yet the league still punishes athletes for treating aches and pains with marijuana. Instead, league officials and doctors push dangerous – and addictive – pharmaceuticals.
CTE Treatment with Cannabis
In addition to serving as an effective pain reliever, scientists are studying whether cannabis can successfully treat (and someday perhaps prevent) symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain injury common to football players and highlighted in the 2015 movie “Concussion.”
United Against CTE
Oddly, the league, which currently bans players testing positive for cannabis in any form, might find it easier to agree on a plan to use medical cannabis to treat CTE than to agree on a way to quiet the uproar over kneeling during the National Anthem.
Unlike the anthem situation, where opposing positions appear intractable, everyone is united in the effort to protect the health of the players who play the game so many enjoy.
Traumatic Brain Injury and Marijuana
The good news is we live in a time when no potential solution to the CTE crisis will be overlooked, including use of cannabis to treat the symptoms of severe head injuries. Perhaps this issue will help reduce the stigma still associated with marijuana, given its efficacy for brain injury treatment.
In addition to settling compensation issues, player health and safety concerns are going to be center stage when the NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2020 season. The league’s drug use enforcement power is part of its agreement with the NFL Players Association.
NFL Officially ‘Cautious’
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said in the past the league is open to changing its thinking and policies on cannabis use by its players IF science indicates a change would help the players’ health.
While also acknowledging there is a growing body of research supporting potential changes, he is no rush to change the status quo. He said the league, along with the NFLPA, has hired medical experts to help it study the science.
“(We’ve) been studying that through our (medical) advisers,” Goodell said last winter. “To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”
Players Worried About Opioids
All sides are open to studying medical uses for cannabis and eager to see the results. Martellus Bennett, who recently retired after 10 NFL seasons, is a proponent of letting athletes use cannabis right now, with or without proof it treats the effects of CTE. He says marijuana is a safer, more natural way to treat the week-to-week pain NFL players experience.
“There are times of the year where your body just hurts so bad,” Bennett said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “You don’t want to be popping pills all the time. There are anti-inflammatory drugs you take so long that they start to eat at your liver, kidneys and things like that.”
Safety Vital to NFL’s Future
The NFL’s future could literally depend on solving the CTE crisis. Concerns about safety are top of mind for youth players and their parents. The number of U.S. high school football players has declined 7 percent since its peak in 2009. At the same time, the number of participants in all other sports is growing (up 8 percent).
Change is Inevitable
Just as action on NFL playing fields can reverberate across the nation, what happens in U.S. society writ large shapes life in locker rooms. At this time, only three states with NFL franchises have legalized recreational use of cannabis. That number is going to grow.
Have You Suffered a Brain Injury?
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to suffer from CTE, a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Damage to the brain is a serious medical event and requires professional help. Before treating traumatic brain injuries with marijuana cannabis, it is important to talk with your doctor first.
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