Medical Cannabis Gains Yardage with NFL

Medical Cannabis Gains Yardage with NFL

The National Football League may be warming to the idea that treating injured players with medical cannabis is preferable to the alternative: opiate painkillers. That’s according to a story published in the Washington Post in July. The Post reported that the NFL sent a letter to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) proposing a tandem study of the potential use of cannabis as a pain management tool for players.

Ryan O’Callaghan, former offensive lineman for the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, is all in. “For people like me, marijuana is a godsend because you don’t want to take these pills,” he said, speaking to’s Josh Peter.

Former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle, Eugene Monroe, agrees. According to, when Monroe was a player, team doctors prescribed him pills for each injury he sustained. “Then I’d need more pills on top of those to deal with the side effects,” Monroe said, detailing the disorientation, lethargy, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues he suffered from the opioid-based painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. After retiring, Monroe began researching pain management alternatives and discovered medical cannabis. He, too, has found cannabis to be more effective than the litany of opioids he was prescribed, with none of the adverse side effects.

According to Reuters Health, U.S. states that have legalized medical marijuana, have seen hospitalization rates for opiate painkiller dependence/abuse drop 23 percent on average. While hospitalization rates for opiate overdoses dropped 13 percent on average. quotes Donald Abrams, MD, chief of the Hematology-Oncology Division at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital as saying anything that makes a dent in an epidemic that kills 80 Americans every day [as opiates do] is worth consideration. “If we could use cannabis, which is less addictive and harmful than opioids, to increase the effectiveness of pain treatment, I think it can make a difference during this epidemic of opioid abuse.” Abrams, who has investigated the effect of cannabis on pain for over a decade, noted that progress is hampered by the fact that it’s still difficult to obtain funding for medical cannabis research.

Neuroprotective Qualities of Cannabis

Early studies have also shown that cannabis can help treat, and even prevent, brain damage—one of the hazards of playing professional football. An overwhelming majority of deceased NFL players whose brains were studied suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy—a degenerative condition linked to head trauma. Suzanne Sisley, MD, who sits on the board of Doctors for Cannabis Reform told San Francisco Chronicle Sports Editor Al Saracevic “The bottom line is that cannabinoids are clearly neuroprotective. We have preclinical data at the receptor level that cannabinoids and cannabis are not only involved with brain repair but neurogenesis, the development of new neural tissue. It’s one of the most exciting discoveries of modern neuroscience.”

Assuming the joint study between the NFL and the NFLPA moves forward, it could benefit more than just injured football players by contributing critical medical research, potentially shedding more light on the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis for the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Stay tuned for late-breaking developments on this story and: go Pats!