NFL To Players Union: Can We Study Medical Marijuana Together?

By Kelly Burch 08/04/17

The NFL has made a giant step forward by officially announcing their plans to study marijuana use for pain management.

Quarterback Tom Brady, No 12, takes hike at Gillette Stadium

The National Football League has reached out to the NFL Players Association about working together to study marijuana as a pain relief tool for players, one of the first signs that the league could be seriously considering relaxing its policies toward marijuana. 

If an NFL player tests positive for marijuana he can be suspended, which can have detrimental effects on his career. However, the league’s strict policies have been clashing with increased acceptance of recreational marijuana and criticism of the league’s heavy use of opioid painkillers, a practice some players say could be reduced if the league allowed use of medical marijuana. 

“We look forward to working with the Players Association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, told The Washington Post. The Player’s Association did not comment. 

The Washington Post reported that the letter sent by the NFL outlined specific areas for research, including marijuana has a pain relief for chronic and acute pain. 

Problems with the NFL’s current marijuana policy are highlighted by Seantrel Henderson, an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills who has Crohn’s disease and uses marijuana to control his pain. Last season he was suspended for 10 games for testing positive for cannabis. 

“It will end his career if this keeps happening,” Brian Fettner, Henderson’s agent, told City Lab last year.

In January the executive director of the NFL player’s association told The Washington Post that the union wanted to propose a “less punitive” marijuana policy to the league. 

“I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate,” DeMaurice Smith said at the time. “I think it’s important to look at whether there are addiction issues. And I think it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.”

In April the owner of the Dallas Cowboys reportedly urged the league to drop the marijuana ban. 

The NFL has come under increasing scrutiny for the heavy use of opioid painkillers by players. In 2012, the average team prescribed 2,213 doses of controlled medications to players, which averages out to at least six doses for each player each week of the season. Many players have been suing the league over the practice, and others argue that medical marijuana would be a safer alternative to pain relief. 

“Like a lot of other guys, I used cannabis during my playing career because it helps take quite a bit of the pain away,” retired Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe told Leafly. “I’ve seen what happened with a lot of the older guys—in terms of the guys who played during the ‘70s and ‘80s. They were hooked on pain pills, and we all saw how they turned out.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.