Broken bones. Torn ligaments. Torn muscles. Brain trauma. These are just a handful of the injuries NFL players receive every day in games, in practices, and in the off-season. To deal with the daily pain of a ravaged body, professional football players are prescribed opioid painkillers. These prescriptions come with serious side effects: nausea, vomiting, lethargy, depression, stomach pain—and of course, an increased risk of addiction. So, is it time to allow CBD in the NFL?
The Opioid Epidemic
More than 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids, and 20,000 of them die each year. A 2011 study showed that retired NFL players are more than four times as likely to misuse opioid pain medications.
Former and current NFL players, such as retired Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, believe there’s a safer alternative to help players deal with the pain and discomfort that comes with the job of being hit full-force by 300 pound men.
Retired Players Paving The Way
Plummer was part of the 2016 When the Bright Lights Fade campaign, which brought attention to the work researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania were doing to determine how cannabidiol (the non-psychoactive chemical compound found in cannabis plants) can help NFL players.
This study prompted a larger movement within the NFL Players Association to have the league reconsider their stance on using CBD oil to treat players. Until recently, the league had some of the most Draconian regulations of any major sports group. Even the Major League Baseball (MLB) also removed Marijuana from its list of prohibited drugs in 2019. Any player who tested positive for any drugs, including THC (which CBD can contain trace amounts of) would face suspension.
Collective Bargaining Agreement Changes Things
As of March 2020, there is hope. NFL players agreed to a Collective Bargaining Agreement which revealed that the league will no longer be suspending players who test positive for drugs including THC. Players will also now only be tested during their two-week training camp period.
It seems the NFL has finally recognized what players like Plummer have been saying for years. In the CBA document, the league wrote, “Substance abuse can lead to on-the-field injuries, to alienation of the fans, to diminished job performance, and to personal hardship. The deaths of several NFL Players have demonstrated the potentially tragic consequences of substance abuse.” The document also noted that a joint committee will study “alternative therapies, including marijuana and THC-based therapies” for pain management.
In a league with 4-5 times the amount of in-game injuries as the NBA, MLB, or NHL, safer, non-addictive pain relief alternatives must continue to be explored. With time, new studies will hopefully show the benefits of CBD oil for everyone from NFL players to fans in the stadium.