The NFL is in the process of updating its 2010 Policy and Program for Substance Abuse, which currently says any player who tests positive for medical marijuana shall forfeit pay during their suspension. In the December 23rd issue of ESPN The Magazine an article by Howard Bryant suggests that the NFL embrace medical marijuana. At Americans for Safe Access, we could not agree more. The following is an open letter to the two most powerful people in football to explain why and to provide policy suggestions they should consider when drafting the new NFL Policy and Program for Substance Abuse.
Dear NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and NFL Players’ Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith,
No one needs to tell you that players in the National Football League get hurt, or that managing pain is a part of the game. Or that long after they’ve left the field, 9 out of 10 players continue to suffer. You’ve seen the studies that track injuries and the abuse of painkillers, not to mention the devastating effects of concussions. You’ve funded care and reached financial settlements.
What you may not realize is that a proven botanical medicine can help trainers keep active players on the field while staving off the worst long-term health problems retired players face. And it can do it without the dangerous side effects of many of the current treatments teams are using. That medicine is marijuana, listed in the American Herbal Pharmacopeia as cannabis.
The great utility of medical cannabis is in part the remarkable safety of the medicine and lack of serious side effects; the other is the unique breadth of its therapeutic actions. Because it is simultaneously a pain killer, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent, a single dose of cannabis can replace a handful of pharmaceuticals.
For muscloskeletal injuries, medical cannabis works as well as codeine and other opiates. It also has a synergistic effect that makes smaller doses of opiates more effective, lessening the chance of side effects and addiction. Using medical cannabis to lower doses or substitute for opiate painkillers can help reduce the misuse that leaves former players addicted at four-times the rate of non-players. For the difficult-to-treat neuropathic pain that can result from tissue and spinal injuries, low doses of medical cannabis have been shown to work when even handfuls of Vicodin won’t.
Medical cannabis also offers powerful anti-inflammatory properties without the damaging side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Overuse by players of NSAIDs has been tied to kidney failure and liver damage, as you know because former Seahawks Safety Kenny Easley sued the NFL shortly before receiving a kidney transplant in 1990.