Want an excellent sign of progress? The NFL fires and blacklists athletes with Cannabis in their systems. But now — imagine this! — they’ve started to actually listen to players and — stay with me now — study why they choose weed.
The NFL is awarding $1 million in research funding to two teams of medical researchers to study the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in professional football players.
Teams from the University of California San Diego and University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada won out among 106 proposals, reports the AP. The NFL initiated the process with the NFL Players Association’s Joint Pain Management Committee in June 2021.
“We’re Always Interested In Trying To Improve Our Approach”
“We’re always interested in trying to improve our approach and our treatment for acute and chronic pain in NFL players,” said NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills. ”And we always want to make sure that our players are receiving the most up-to-date medical consensus around any of these treatments.
“So, our burden of proof is really high for NFL players,” Sills said to the Associated Press. “Anytime we want to introduce a new therapy, we have to understand how that decision might impact their well-being and their performance.
“We know there’s been a lot of interest in this area, but we did not feel like there was a lot of great solid research on the benefits of marijuana, CBD and treating acute and chronic pain. So, that’s why we wanted to try to contribute to the body of science in this area,” Sills said.
“Stakeholders Really Aren’t Interested In Advancing The Science”
Dr. Kevin Hill, director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is a preeminent cannabis researcher and author. He is co-chair of the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee. Hill explained why there hasn’t been much research on this topic.
“One reason is the [DEA] scheduling of cannabis makes it harder to do this research,” Hill said. ”But the main reason is that stakeholders really aren’t interested in advancing the science.”
“You have states and companies that are making a lot of money selling cannabis products, selling CBD products right now,” Hill told AP. ”So they don’t feel the need to prove the efficacy of these products, and millions of people are using them. So that’s the predicament that we’re in as health care professionals or organizations that really care about the health and safety of our constituents, the players in this case.
“We really want to know, do they work?” Hill said. ”So it becomes a very complicated risk/benefit discussion.”
“We’ve Heard From The Players Loud And Clear”
The $1 million grant is a proactive move by the NFL to better understand and improve Cannabis-centered pain management treatments. Many players over the years have asked about the benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids.
“We’ve heard from the teams, from the medical staffs, from the players loud and clear that they’re interested in cannabis and cannabinoids,” Hill said. ”And so we wanted to do something that would advance the science in this area so that we could have better informed conversations with them.
“We’re interested in figuring out, are there ways that we can treat pain better?” Hill said. ””And so we’re going to use this and look at this process and see if there’s a way that we can improve this process, but continue to try to advance the science in the interest of players’ health and safety.”
Marijuana Still(!) A Banned Substance In The NFL
The NFL still bans Cannabis; that’s the unfortunate bottom line. But rules about players using marijuana were loosened in the latest collective bargaining agreement.
Under the most recent labor deal, the league no longer suspends players who test positive for weed. But it can and often does still fine them, depending on the number of positive tests.
The league changed testing times to the first two weeks of training camp instead of from April to August. It also raised, fourfold, the threshold needed to trigger a positive test.
Projects Will Take 3 Years To Complete
The research led by Dr. Thomas Marcotte and Dr. Mark Wallace at the University of California San Diego will investigate the effects of cannabinoids on pain and recovery from sports-related injuries.
The study led by Dr. J. Patrick Neary at the University of Regina focuses on naturally produced cannabinoids for pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in contact sports.
Both projects will take three years to complete.
“I See This As Being Hugely Impactful”
“This type of work is going to be of interest to athletes in many different sports and at all levels,” Sills said. “And so I think this will be very generalizable.
”So this research will help inform people as to which strategies may be beneficial and then those that may not be. And so I see this as being hugely impactful for the NFL, for all of the elite sport, but also sport at all levels across society,” Sills said.