Finding a place for cannabis in the National Football League

“When two people hit each other, there is no hammer and no nail. They are both hammers. “Both people are going to get some sort of injury,” said former NFL star Chicago Bears safety Doug Plank.

As one half of the Bears’ “Hit Men,” Plank is no stranger to collisions and playing with pain. “Pain is such a factor in the National Football League. When I was there, doctors drained your joints. They would actually reduce inflammation in your shoulders and knees. So I think I’ve had four joints replaced now – titanium.”

play through the pain

Plank, 69, attended MJBizCon 2022 in Las Vegas to learn more about the industry. He wanted to know how it can help former and current players in the NFL recover, manage pain, and have a better quality of life once their playing days are behind them.

Plank recalled the time he played: “Thursday or Friday, I was preparing for a game on Sunday and I couldn’t walk because of the pain. In the ’70s, the typical NFL player would have injections in his body between Thursday or Friday and Sunday to make him feel brand new. He could do anything. You know all the pain was gone. The flexibility was there like never before.”

In any era of the NFL, injuries are a daily reality for a player. In a 2021 Science Direct report, 3,025 injuries were reported during the study period (four NFL seasons). Of the 3,025 reported injuries, 582 (19%) occurred during weeks 1-4 of the 2020-2021 regular season.

Finding the necessary pain management solution that is consistent with the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players has been contentious for decades.

Move the goalposts

The NFL has a clear stance on the use of cannabis as part of its Prohibited Substances List. As a result, players turned to painkillers and opioids to stay game ready and pain free. Plank recalls taking so many painkillers after breaking his rib that he was completely deaf, putting himself in an even more dangerous situation.

“In that particular game, I felt absolutely nothing from neck to waist. I could see it and see it, but I couldn’t feel it. I could touch it without any feeling.” He continued, “I’m not trying to pretend I’m a strong, fantastic player. There were many players who suffered the same injuries and we are expected to play with pain. You know, that was one of the things that was really expected of you.”

As legalization ramps up across the United States, the NFL is taking a closer look at player cannabis use.

During the 2021 offseason, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to changes to the league’s marijuana policy. Players now only need to get tested for marijuana once a year at the start of training camp. Players who fail the test face a fine, but not the lengthy suspension they have faced in the past. Plank believes that this kind of evolved thinking is a long way off.

“I am wholeheartedly for anything that can help today’s athlete to perform better but also under a safe and equitable background and plan. It’s a great first step.”

expansion of research

Additionally, in February 2022, the National Football League announced the award of $1 million in research grants to two medical research teams from the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina. The studies will examine the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotective effects in concussion in top soccer players.

Plank isn’t the only one who thinks it’s time for these potential rule changes. Recently, another big Chicago Bears star, Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon, revealed that cannabis is more than just a band-aid, it’s a life-changing option. After retiring from 15 seasons in the NFL, McMahon suffered from severe chronic pain. To deal with it, he developed an addiction to pills and once claimed he was taking 100 Percocet tablets a month.

“There are so many uses for this plant,” McMahon said. “Hundreds of thousands of people die from it [painkillers]and there is not a single case of people dying from the hemp plant.”

He added: “God set us all free from that [pain] Pills we’ve been taking for years. [Cannabis] is a much, much better thing for us. Everyone has a cannabinoid system in their body and we should use this plant.”

dr Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, believes it’s crucial to better understand current pain management options. “As with the league’s broader approach to health and safety, we want to ensure our players receive care that reflects the most up-to-date medical consensus.”

He continued, “While the burden of proof is high for NFL players who want to understand the impact of a medical decision on their performance, we are grateful to have the opportunity to fund these science-based studies of cannabinoid use that are… potentially lead to it.” led to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact pain management for our players.”

find alternatives

“I think the results showed that it could be an effective treatment in certain situations,” Plank said. For current and future players, removing cannabis from the banned substance list could offer a healthy alternative to painkillers. It could help NFL grads live more pain-free lives after their careers are over.

The new generation of NFL players has grown up in a world where cannabis is not taboo but part of the global conversation. For alumni like Plank (who has never tried cannabis), McMahon and many others, education is about removing the stigma “of the drug” and understanding the health benefits it can have in everything from chronic pain to post-traumatic stress disorder , an important step important next step.

This article first appeared in Volume 4, Issue 4 of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read the full issue here.

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