There’s no denying that public perception of cannabis is changing. With the results of last November’s election, medical cannabis is now legal in more than half the country, 28 states and the District of Columbia to be exact. New developments in science and medicine have done wonders in de-stigmatizing the menacing reputation that cannabis and its users once held.
With all of the new information available about the benefits of cannabis, especially when pertaining to pain relief, it seems rather odd that the National Football League (NFL) is still unwilling to remove cannabis from its banned substance list. The NFL still dominates the field when it comes to sports related head injuries, yet is unwavering in its stance against the use of medical cannabis to treat these injuries. With much stricter policies than the Olympics, the MLB and the NBA, players looking for an alternative to the addictive opioids they’re being prescribed are left with few options.
Throughout the years, the relationship between cannabis and the NFL has been a tumultuous one. In the ’80s, the “War on Drugs” grouped cannabis in with other very dangerous and harsh substances such as heroin and LSD creating a stigma that, despite much evidence to the contrary is still strongly believed today. But why is this the case? Why is cannabis still shown in such a controversial light, especially when it comes to athletes?
“100 percent behind the movement to get the NFL to change their stance. I think marijuana, cannabinoids and cannabis are a much safer alternative for a lot of the players who are being forced to take opioids.”
Just last month, Buffalo Bills lineman Seantrel Henderson was handed a very hefty 10-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. Henderson suffers from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause severe abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss. Though there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, Henderson was using cannabis for treatment. The 24-year-old was suspended for the same violation earlier this year and will likely be banned for life if caught again. The NFL’s disciplinary action for those violating the substance abuse policy greatly outweighs other violations such as domestic abuse, which carried just a one-day suspension for Giants kicker, Josh Brown last October for admitting to abusing his wife. Players and fans alike have taken notice of this inequity and have voiced their strong opinions to the league via social media.
CULTURE reached out to Jim McAlpine, founder of 420 Games, to get his insight on what it will take for the NFL to finally lift, or at least loosen its firm stance on medical cannabis. “It will take two things, it will take science . . . I think that’s already begun to happen now with legalization and also just if more and more players are brave enough to stand up and I think that ‘I am Spartacus’ thing is happening right now . . .”
McAlpine is referring to Tennessee Titans linebacker, Derrick Morgan and retired players Jake Plummer and Eugene Monroe, who have been very vocal about their advocacy for medicinal cannabis as a pain reliever and possible neuroprotectant. It seems that other players may share this view but feel reluctant to voice it for fear of being targeted by the league.
ESPN The Magazine recently asked 226 NFL players from both the AFC and NFC about their relationship and opinions on cannabis in a completely anonymous setting and the results were significant. When asked if cannabis should be legal in all states, 71 percent answered yes, garnering the highest percentage of agreement of all the questions asked.
The NFL Players Association has finally taken notice of its athletes’ views and has agreed to study the use of medical cannabis as a treatment for pain, stating that it will listen to “science and medical experts” in regards to this alternative treatment method. This is great news for players who have fallen victim to dangerous addictions to opioids and other painkillers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 14,000 people died from prescription opioid overdose in 2014 alone. Jim McAlpine singles out Toradol, a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug that is meant for short-term use with possible side effects including renal failure and kidney damage, not to mention that the drug itself basically makes the body go numb, “It makes you not feel your injuries,” explains McAlpine. “You can get back in the game, play for another half, but you’re just taking your injury and making it 10 times worse.” McAlpine adds that he is “100 percent behind the movement to get the NFL to change their stance. I think marijuana, cannabinoids and cannabis are a much safer alternative for a lot of the players who are being forced to take opioids.”
Although the NFLPA’s decision to even consider studying the medicinal use of cannabis is a hopeful sign that pain treatment is moving in the right direction, there is still quite a bit more work to do, to help these serious professional athletes get the better healing benefits from the cannabis plant instead of pharmaceuticals.