Sunday, October 18, 2015
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this provocative new Forbes commentary headlined "The NFL Should Be Investing In Marijuana If It Wants To Survive." Authored by Blake Yagman and Jason Belzer, here are excerpts:
The National Football League has survived more public relations crises in the past year than most multi-billion dollar organizations endure in a decade. Yet the greatest existential threat to the NFL, if not to the existence of football itself, still remains Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or “CTE.”...
Terrifyingly, the vast prevalence of the disease may not have been known until fairly recently. Just this year, Boston University found the existence of CTE in the brains of 96% of 91 tested subjects, all of whom played football at some organized level. When the disease was first discovered in 2002 in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the NFL initially tried to limit the fallout from the discovery. According to Omalu, “NFL doctors told me that if 10% of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”
Last year, Harvard Medical School Professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon called attention to a neuro-protective agent that has the potential to render concussions obsolete – Marijuana. According to Grinspoon, a National Institute of Health study from 1998 revealed the neuro-protective qualities of Marijuana’s two main psycho-active ingredients, Cannabidiol and Delta-9 Tetrahudrocannabidol (THC). In 2008, a similar study in Spain revealed that the THC-receptors in the brain are involved in the healing process upon sustaining brain injury. Most recently, the National Institute of Health showed that THC significantly decreases the death rate of patients with physically sustained brain trauma. In 2013, a team of researchers in Brazil were able to prove that Cannabidiol has the ability to regenerate brain cells in mice. The study specifically showed a capacity to promote the growth of brain cells in the areas of the brain attributed to depression, anxiety, and chronic stress—the symptoms of CTE.
If components of Marijuana have been proven beneficial to patients with neurological injury, the natural conclusion would be to study the drug and develop a medication that could help prevent terrible effects of concussions and CTE. That being said, the barriers to begin this sort of endeavor — research that nevertheless could save the game of football — are high (no pun intended). Perhaps most obviously, the biggest issue is one of funding....
If the league were to finance this research, they would face an avalanche of cries of hypocrisy, as the league has a strict no-drug policy. Realistically, the program is often taken as seriously by its players as the league’s selection of the policy’s mandated testing date of April 20th (the unofficial holiday of recreational users of Marijuana).... Quite notoriously, players simply pass the annual test and continue to use the drug therapeutically for injuries during the season. Medical Marijuana is legal in 23 states, recreational use is legal in three states, and the drug has been decriminalized in many of the United States’major cities, yet the drug remains “illegal”for use by players.
Although the initial publicity for the NFL might be negative, the potential impact reaching into future generations is tremendous. Not only would the league attempt to cure a major medical question that plagues modern sports, but it could potentially set a precedent for major corporations to push Marijuana research forward to fully discover the drug’s potential. The looseness of the NFL’s current Marijuana policy, as well as Commissioner Goodell’s recent statement that the league is willing to support research into Marijuana’s medical uses specific to football, suggest that this partnership is a more than viable option.
Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:
Monday, August 3, 2015
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this very lengthy San Diego Union-Tribune article spotlighting the arguments being made by a former NFL players about the relative advantages of marijuana as a means of pain relief. Here are excerpts:
Kyle Turley's decade-long NFL career left the former San Diego State All-American offensive tackle with a multitude of health issues. Turley’s football injuries broke his body, but he’s also convinced that football did irreparable damage to his brain. He’s struggled with anxiety, headaches, depression and rage issues. In an interview with the Union-Tribune in 2013, he even admitted to having entertained suicide.
To help him deal with his ailments, Turley’s doctors have prescribed a multitude of painkillers, psych meds and muscle relaxants over the years. Depakote. Wellbutrin. Zoloft. Flexeril. Percocet. Vicodin. Toradol. Vioxx.
You don’t need to know what each of these drugs is designed to do. The point is that dating back to when he blew out his knee at SDSU in 1996, Turley has been on them all at some point, often in different prescribed combinations, over a period that spans almost 20 years.
That ended in February when Turley decided to free himself of all prescription medications and use only marijuana – a move he credits with saving his life.
The sports world appears to be waiting to see what happens politically in regard to marijuana, with the movement to legalize it gaining steam in the United States. 23 states have now legalized marijuana in some form, with four of those (Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Colorado) allowing for outright recreational use for adults aged 21 and older.
The drug is still illegal in all the major pro sports leagues and very restricted at the NCAA level. In the meantime, there’s a growing segment of athletes who believe the health benefits to be gained from the marijuana plant outweigh the risks – especially when compared to the opioids they’ve long been prescribed.
Experts in the field of pain medicine agree that everything is coming to a head. “We have 100 million Americans in chronic pain. We don’t have good, strong and safe therapies. We have a crisis with pain and opioids in this country,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, a past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. “We need to find better treatments for athletes and non-athletes, and cannabinoids may by one way.”...
A 1997 New York Times story estimated that “60 to 70 percent” of NBA players smoked marijuana, though this pre-dated the medicinal marijuana wave of the 2000s, and it appears that marijuana was used mostly as a recreational drug.
Around the turn of the decade, evidence suggests more athletes started using marijuana more to help manage pain from injuries, especially in the NFL. Running back Jamal Anderson, who played for the Atlanta Falcons from 1994 to 2001 recently told Bleacher Report that during his career about “40 to 50 percent of the league” used marijuana. San Diegan Ricky Williams, who played for the Saints, Dolphins and Ravens from 1999 to 2011, has also publicly talked about using marijuana during his career to help control pain and stress.
The focus on the issue sharpens when you consider that the NFL currently faces a lawsuit filed in May by a group of former players who allege that all 32 teams liberally dispensed large quantities of painkillers to injured players in a “conspiracy” to keep them on the field without fully educating them on the risks these medications present.
Anderson, Williams, Turley and former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson are now part of a growing number of former players who believe that marijuana is a safer way to help athletes deal with pain. “It’s natural for football players to lean toward marijuana to deal with the violence and trauma of the game,” said Jackson, 36, who played for the Broncos from 2003-08, and who estimates that up to half his team might have used marijuana. “Teams will prescribe you bottles and injections that are really bad for you. Cannabis was what my teammates and I preferred.
“It was a supplement/recovery for me. (Opioids or marijuana), it was never a dilemma. It was a physical reaction to substances that I assessed after trying both and realizing that marijuana was better for my mind and body. I don’t like taking pills. They make me feel slow, sluggish and heavy.”...
The NFL only tests for marijuana between April and August, so it’s not difficult for players who use cannabis to work around that and stay under the radar while ensuring they pass the drug screening. Turley also used marijuana regularly when he played in the NFL because he said it helped him deal with some of his health issues – anxiety, sleeplessness and depression among them. Now, he’s returned to marijuana as a way to manage his ailments in his post-NFL life.
With California’s liberal medical marijuana policies, access to marijuana was one of the reasons Turley uprooted his family from Nashville, Tenn. back to his hometown of Riverside last April. Since weaning himself off all prescription drugs three months ago and transitioning solely to medicinal marijuana, Turley has noticed a “night and day difference in his psyche.” He no longer suffers from low testosterone, his libido is back, and his anxiety issues have improved.
“I don’t have as bad depression any more, that’s getting better. The cognitive impairment seems to be getting a little bit better. Life is more manageable, I have more energy and feel more alive,” Turley said. “I don’t think about killing myself any more. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies were part of my daily living. At the end of the day, I was losing hope with the synthetic drugs and now I feel better. It’s giving me hope again, helping with depression and anxiety.”
Some athletes also tout marijuana for its value as a neuro-protectant though scientific studies on the subject are still very preliminary. Some studies of the drug have found just the opposite – that it can actually lead to suicidal thoughts in some users. Like many medical issues, the anecdotes from true believers is increasingly at odds with the clinical evidence, stoking emotions on both sides.
More research could prove valuable for athletes looking for answers outside established medical practices that they have come to distrust – especially NFL players who have in the last five years become much more aware of how concussions and head trauma sustained during their football careers can cause long term brain damage or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – the progressive, degenerative brain disease that results from multiple sub-concussive blows to the head.
Turley has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, and has had his brain scanned for damage. Scans yielded a “big blurred area that doctors are concerned about,” Turley said. Put together the results of the scans, his memory issues, depression and anxiety problems, and Turley believes he has CTE. Turley also thinks marijuana might be helping his brain to heal. “I believe that the answer lies in marijuana and I’m on that search to figure that out. … With marijuana I saw some pretty amazing things and how it can deal with brain injury and this disease I have,” Turley said. “From memory to function, there are some wonders in this medicine.
Yet, for all his praises of marijuana, even Turley admits that in terms of its properties as a medicine, it’s still very much an untested commodity. While he has no medical or scientific credentials, he is passionate about the subject and is anxious to learn more. “There’s no real science behind this yet,” Turley said. “I’m really looking forward to expanding on my experience with it now that it’s giving me relief.
Some prior related posts on NFL players and marijuana use:
August 3, 2015 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, April 23, 2015
As highlighted in many prior posts, students in my marijuana law school seminar are in the midst of assembling readings and leading discussions concerning the research topic(s) that are the focal point for class project(s). This week a student is scheduled to discuss marijuana regulation in the sports industry, and here are some stories she has suggested reviewing on the topic:
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The question in the title of this post is prompted by the very first sentence of this provocative recent New York Times op-ed authored by former NFL player Nate Jackson. Here are excerpts from a piece headlined "The N.F.L.’s Absurd Marijuana Policy":
Virtually every single player in the N.F.L. has a certifiable need for medical marijuana.
The game we celebrate creates a life of daily pain for those who play it. Some players choose marijuana to manage this pain, which allows them to perform at a high level without sacrificing their bodies or their minds.
I medicated with marijuana for most of my career as a tight end from 2003 through 2008. And I needed the medication. I broke my tibia, dislocated my shoulder, separated both shoulders, tore my groin off the bone once and my hamstring off the bone twice, broke fingers and ribs, tore my medial collateral ligament, suffered brain trauma, etc. Most players have similar medical charts. And every one of them needs the medicine.
Standard pain management in the N.F.L. is pain pills and pregame injections. But not all players favor the pill and needle approach. In my experience, many prefer marijuana. The attitude toward weed in the locker room mirrors the attitude in America at large. It’s not a big deal. Players have been familiar with it since adolescence, and those who use it do so to offset the brutality of the game. The fact that they made it to the N.F.L. at all means that their marijuana use is under control.
Had marijuana become a problem for me, it would have been reflected in my job performance, and I would have been cut. I took my job seriously and would not have allowed that to happen. The point is, marijuana and excellence on the playing field are not mutually exclusive....
Nearly 17,000 Americans overdosed and died from prescription painkillers in 2011, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are the same pills I was handed in full bottles after an injury. The same pills that are ravaging our cities. The same ones that are creating a population of apathetic adults, pill-popping their way through the day and dead behind the eyes. The same ones that are leading high schoolers to heroin because the pills no longer get them high and are too expensive. Yeah, those....
In my playing days, the marijuana smokers struck me as sharper, more thoughtful and more likely to challenge authority than the nonsmokers. It makes me wonder if we weren’t that way because marijuana allowed us to avoid the heavy daze of pain pills. It gave us clarity. It kept us sane....
Professional football is a violent trade that could use some forward thinking. The N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association, which agreed to the league’s substance abuse policy in collective bargaining, should rethink their approach. The policy reflects outdated views on marijuana and pain management, punishes players who seek an alternative to painkillers, keeps them in a perpetual state of injury and injury management, and risks creating new addicts.
Monday, September 8, 2014
Regular readers of this blog may surmise that I think (as do perhaps some other blog contributors) that the ways in which the National Football League formally and informally deals with marijuana issues in the months and years ahead could play a huge role in how much of the nation formally and informally deals with marijuana issues. Consequently, I found notable this new New York Times piece by Michael Powell, headlined "Football’s in the Air, and in Denver, So Is the Sweet Smell of Herb: Marijuana Seeps Into Tailgating Rituals at Mile High in Colorado." Here is an excerpt:
I’m standing in a parking lot overlooking the stadium known prosaically as Sports Authority and poetically as Mile High. That handle is metaphorically apt, too, as I’m engaged in the all-American sport of tailgating, with Corey and the Wookie and four friends....
The tall, red-bearded professional chef with excellent shades who insists his friends know him as the Wookie fires up the pipe and, amid clouds, talks legalized weed and the world that has followed on its heels. “Why do you think Peyton Manning invested in pizza places after legalization? Boom! Stoners love pizza.”...
Herbaceous tailgating, truth be told, is in its infancy. The Mile High Cannabis dispensary stands across the street from the stadium, and watching its game-day traffic of orange-clad customers calls to mind the week leading up to Christmas. “We’re glad to do our part in getting people amped for the game,” says budtender Erin Catalano....
But the Broncos, following in the prim footsteps of the N.F.L., have taken a position of sniffy disapproval. Go to the team’s website under the heading of marijuana. “Any form of marijuana consumption,” it says, “is prohibited on Sports Authority Field at Mile High property during public events, including in stadium parking lots.” That goes for edibles; you must leave the gummy bears at home.
The N.F.L. insists it is enforcing Colorado law. Whatever. The Colorado Symphony has taken a laid-back path of no resistance whatsoever. It has “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series.” (This is not to argue that all has gone well with legalization. Meth heads have embraced the herb and hash oil explosions have become a clear and present danger in Colorado, proving that stupidity grows apace with social change.)
Less comprehensible is why the N.F.L., that most gladiatorial of our major sports, continues to embrace reefer madness. It tests for pot in infinitesimal quantities and suspends repeat offenders for entire seasons....
A linebacker in Colorado can limp into the locker room with dislocated fingers, twisted ligaments and bruises like leprosy splotches. He will get legally shot up and prescribed various and many opiates. Or he can grab a 12-pack of the N.F.L.’s official beer and drink himself into sweet oblivion. But if he goes home and dips into his legal stash of cannabis indica and dozes off in front of his television? He is a threat to American sport, not to mention that one-armed bandit of an industry known as the N.F.L. The players union is trying to force the league to negotiate a more sane policy on marijuana as part of a new drug testing program.
Colorado fans, let it be said, do not put herb in your face. No one gets gnarly.... The fans insist that pot leaves them mellower. They get their orange jerseys and scream fiercely and all that. But this isn’t New York or Philadelphia. Fighting is extremely unchill.
My colleague Ken Belson was in Seattle on Thursday for the Seahawks’ opener. Parking spots there go for $80 a pop, which is a buzz kill itself. And cops enforce the same sanctions against public consumption of weed. That said, he reported that stoners tended to persevere. The sweet smell of herb mixed with the tang of organic, grass-fed, much-loved cows as they became burgers on the grill. After the game, he shared a Trickster IPA or three, and he reported having to first sweep a few grams of loose buds off his table.
As the title of this post suggests, I would be surprised to learn that use of marijuana at some tailgating locales is truly a new reality. But prominent articles about marijuana tailgating in the New York Times surely is.
Some prior NFL related posts:
- "NFL Seeks Right Answer for Marijuana Use"
- Leafly and Americans for Safe Access team up on NFL ads
- NFL reportedly plans to decrease punishments for marijuana use
- NFL player on marijuana use "we're just going to do it anyway"
- Should the NFL fund medical marijuana studies?
Thursday, August 14, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article. Alex has done a terrific job on this blog keeping track of the intersection of America's favorite sport and America's favorite prohibited substance, and this AP article help highlight how dynamic that intersection can be. Here are excerpts:
Marijuana is casting an ever-thickening haze across NFL locker rooms, and it's not simply because more players are using it. As attitudes toward the drug soften, and science slowly teases out marijuana's possible benefits for concussions and other injuries, the NFL is reaching a critical point in navigating its tenuous relationship with what is recognized as the analgesic of choice for many of its players.
"It's not, let's go smoke a joint," retired NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington said. "It's, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?"
One challenge the NFL faces is how to bring marijuana into the game as a pain reliever without condoning its use as a recreational drug. And facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of former players complaining about the effects of prescription painkillers they say were pushed on them by team trainers and doctors, the NFL is looking for other ways to help players deal with the pain from a violent game....
There are no hard numbers on how many NFL players are using marijuana, but anecdotal evidence, including the arrest or league discipline of no fewer than a dozen players for pot over the past 18 months, suggests use is becoming more common. Redskins offensive lineman Ryan Clark didn't want to pinpoint the number of current NFL players who smoke pot but said, "I know a lot of guys who don't regularly smoke marijuana who would use it during the season."...
Another longtime defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, estimates half the players in the average NFL locker room were using it by the time he shut down his career in 2006. "They are leaning on it to cope with the pain," said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. "They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game."
The NFL is fighting lawsuits on two fronts — concussions and painkillers — both of which, some argue, could be positively influenced if marijuana were better tolerated by the league.
The science, however, is slow-moving and expensive and might not ever be conclusive, says behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey, who studies marijuana use at John Hopkins. Marijuana may work better for some people, while narcotics and other painkillers might be better for others. "Different medicines work differently from person to person," Vandrey said. "There's pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it's a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated."...
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has treaded gingerly around the subject. Before last season's Super Bowl he said the league would "follow the medicine" and not rule out allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. An NFL spokesman reiterated that this month, saying if medical advisers inform the league it should consider modifying the policy, it would explore possible changes.
A spokesman for the players union declined comment on marijuana, beyond saying the union is always looking for ways to improve the drug-testing policy. But earlier this year, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the marijuana policy is secondary when set against the failure to bring Human Growth Hormone testing into the game. Some believe relaxing the marijuana rules could be linked to a deal that would bring in HGH testing....
The NFL drug policy has come under even more scrutiny this summer, after the NFL handed down a season-long suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. That suspension, especially when juxtaposed against the two-game ban Ray Rice received for domestic violence, has led some to say the league's priorities are out of whack.
In June, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon, one of the forefathers of marijuana research, published an open letter to Goodell, urging him to drop urine testing for weed altogether and, more importantly, fund a crash research project for a marijuana-based drug that can alleviate the consequences of concussions. "As much as I love to watch professional football, I'm beginning to feel like a Roman in the days when they would send Christians to the lions," Grinspoon said. "I don't want to be part of an audience that sees kids ruin their future with this game, and then the league doesn't give them any recourse to try to protect themselves."
The league does, in fact, fund sports-health research at the NIH, to the tune of a $30 million donation it made in 2012. But the science moves slowly no matter where it's conducted and, as Vandrey says, "the NFL is in business for playing football, not doing scientific research."
With the NFL's new season kicking off in just a few weeks, Leafly and Americans for Safe Access have partnered on a new ad campaign on football, chronic pain, and medical marijuana. Last season, the topic generated a good deal of interest in the sports media, as both Super Bowl teams hailed from marijuana legalization states and HBO's Real Sports ran a story on how some players use medical marijuana as an alternative to opiate-based pain killers.
The Leafly/ASA ad campaign aims to keep this conversation going and kicked off with a spot in the USA Today's NFL Special Edition.
Monday, June 2, 2014
One of my favorite sports journalists Jason La Canfora has this editorial out today calling for the NFL to reconsider its stance on medical marijuana. Of particularly interest to me, La Canfora cites Friday's vote in the House as a sign that the NFL is behind the times on this issue.
The times, they are a changin'-- no matter which side of this issue you are on, and on Friday alone the House passed an amendment restricting the DEA from targeting medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal; a bill that was backed by bipartisan support.
La Canfora highlights one of the reasons why the House vote is such an important political development. Medical marijuana reform is now--in a very real and concrete way--an issue with bipartisan support in Congress. And I think this changes perceptions when it comes to the prospect of changing federal law and the status quo on enforcement practices. It begins to turn the tables politically as far as which side of the issue is perceived as the mainstream and which side is perceived as out-of-touch.
Despite all of the polling and state-level reforms, support for medical marijuana has been seen as out-of-the-mainstream in DC. It was an issue that might get a coalition of very progressive Democrats and very-libertarian-leaning Republicans to muster 160 votes in the House. But that was about it. And, as a result, there was a sense that a politician who supported medical marijuana was taking a "far-left" (e.g., Barney Frank) or "far-right" (e.g., Ron Paul) position. But now, supporting reform means you're siding with the majority of a bipartisan group in a Republican-controlled Congress.
I think Friday's vote also has real implications for how this issue will be perceived in the 2016 presidential race. In the past, candidates who opposed federal interference with state medical marijuana laws did so tepidly and the position was seen as a bit risky--something you didn't want to talk about if you could avoid it (see, e.g., President Obama.) This vote makes me think it is even more likely that, in 2016, candidates who don't support marijuana law reform (at least to some degree) will be the ones on the defensive. To be sure, this shift did not start with Friday's vote, but I think it will be seen as one of the most significant milestones in the journey.
And, returning to La Canfora's article, the changing politics of marijuana may have implications for the NFL as well. Here's the start of his excellent piece:
Enough with the NFL's Reefer Madness already. It needs to stop.
I fully realize that nothing of significance changes in this league without a fight between the league and its union, but the fact that lighting up a joint is dealt with in a draconian fashion, while domestic abuse punishment is often meted out in a far-less severe manner, is just one of many incongruous corollaries to the NFL's weed policy.
At a time when the government's approach to pot is taking a dramatic turn, and the drug is being increasingly legalized to some degree or another in state after state, for young stars in their prime like the Browns' Josh Gordon and the Cardinals' Daryl Washington to both be potentially missing all of next season, if not longer, for using marijuana, is ludicrous (now, if you want to kick Washington out of the league for 2014 for other transgressions, you won't get an argument out of me).
This is getting ridiculous.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk has an interesting take on the news that the NFL is thinking of scaling back the punishment for players who test positive for marijuana. Florio sees the news as a ploy to try and get the Players Association to strick a deal on HGH testing. Perhaps most interesting, he argues that the players should use their leverage on HGH testing to demand the elimination of marijuana testing altogether:
Given that Commissioner Roger Goodell made a public push last week to finalize HGH testing, it’s not a stretch to believe that the source who leaked this new information about marijuana testing and discipline to ESPN.com wants the players to know that, if they merely agree to let Commissioner Goodell handle appeals of violations of the performance-enhancing drug policy that arise from something other than a positive test, marijuana will suddenly become less of a problem for players.
And if enough players figure this out and begin pushing the NFLPA to take that deal, the impasse regarding HGH testing may finally be broken.
It’s the right idea by the NFL, but it doesn’t go far enough. Why not simply abandon marijuana testing, and punish only those players who are arrested and convicted of a marijuana-related violation? It’s not a performance-enhancing substance (otherwise, it would fall under the steroids policy). Why does the NFL continue to feel compelled to regulate what a player does on his own time away from work — and why does the NFLPA continue to let it happen?
Maybe the NFL wants HGH testing badly enough to drop the general ban on marijuana. Because marijuana use does nothing to undermine the integrity of the game but HGH does, it should be a no-brainer.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Via ESPN, the NFL may be getting ready to decrease penalties for players who test positive for marijuana while also increasing the threshold for triggering a positive test:
It would be too late to help Josh Gordon, Will Hill or anyone else in danger of lengthy suspensions for violations of current rules. But when and if the NFL's new drug policy is finalized and announced, it will include changes specific to marijuana and other drugs of abuse.
A source told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the renegotiation of the drug policy, which has been going on since 2011 and includes testing for HGH, also will significantly increase the threshold for a positive marijuana test and reduce the punishments for violations involving that drug.
As alluded to in the article, the news comes just a few days after it was reported that Brown's receiver Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for marijuana use. (The Josh Gordon story generated an interesting discussion of marijuana use and the NFL on Pardon the Interruption yesterday (the segment begins at 11 minutes 30 seconds into the linked clip.))
On a related note, some readers may remember news coverage a few months ago of NFL players who use marijuana for pain relief, preferring it to more addictive pain killers. Though the league's new policy would not directly address the medical use of marijuana among players, it may be a nod to that trend. It will be interesting to see more about the policy--particularly what threshold the NFL sets for a positive test--if/when the details are released.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
ProFootballTalk continues its coverage of medical marijuana use and the NFL. The latest: Harvard Professor (emeritus) and longtime medical marijuana advocate, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, has penned an open letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, calling on the NFL to fund studies on whether marijuana might help treat brain injuries (CTE).
“The extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment,” Dr. Lester Grinspoon wrote in an open letter to Goodell, via LeafScience.com. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that a pharmaceutical company will get involved in studying cannabis as a treatment for CTE, because the plant [and its natural components] can’t be patented.”
Grinspoon’s letter speaks to the fundamental question of whether the NFL will sit and wait for someone else to figure out whether medical marijuana can help treat or prevent CTE, or whether the NFL is sufficiently committed to the health of players to fully explore this and any other possibility.
Here’s hoping the league adopts the spirit of Dr. Grinspoon’s letter, objectively assessing any possible treatment for CTE and spending money as warranted to explore potential vehicles for helping players reverse or prevent its development.
I think Mike Florio's (of ProFootballTalk) comments at the end of the post (and his continued interest in this story) may be as noteworthy as Grinspoon's letter, at least as far as the future of medical marijuana and the NFL. Florio is among the most prominent NFL reporters right now. His blog is part of the NBC network and he appears on NBC's flagship Sunday Night Football program. If Florio continues covering the story of medical marijuana and the NFL the way he has, I think it will go a long way in terms of keeping it in the mind of football fans (and the league.)
Friday, February 7, 2014
Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Clark talked in some detail yesterday about marijuana use in the NFL on ESPN's First Take. First Take's hosts are (in my opinion) among the most annoying on ESPN and this segment is a good example of their grating personalities. But Clark's comments are well worth checking out.
In particular, he emphasizes that many players use marijuana as an alternative to more addictive and harmful pain medications. I think that this is a very powerful concept--both as a matter of politics and policy--that has not made its way into the public consciousness the way marijuana use by cancer patients has, for example.
Most people immediately grasp the dangers that conventional pain medications carry. And, because pain is largely in the eye of the person suffering from it (testing for pain is not like taking a person's temperature or giving them an x-ray), I think it is very difficult to discount self-reports from people who say it helps them. The more that athletes speak out about this, I think the more average folks will accept (with good reason in my view) that marijuana can be used to treat pain and that it might be a better option than other medications.
Here's Clark on the subject:
Clark, a 12-year veteran, discussed the topic of marijuana use and the league's testing system Thursday morning on ESPN's "First Take."
"I know guys on my team who smoke," Clark said. "And it's not a situation where you think, 'Oh, these are guys trying to be cool.' These are guys who want to do it recreationally.
"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.' Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it."
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The Super Bowl may be behind us, but the question of marijuana use by NFL players is not. The latest, Jets Player Antonio Cromartie says he thinks it is time for the NFL to let the issue go:
Cromartie said in an interview with Thisis50.com, a website launched by rapper 50 Cent, that he thinks the NFL should take marijuana off the banned substances list.
“They need to just let it go,” Cromartie said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We’re just going to do it anyway. They just need to let it go. They need to go ahead and say, ‘Y’all go ahead, smoke it, do what you need to do.’ “
Cromartie may be a free agent this off-season. It will be interesting to see if this impacts interest in him among NFL teams (and, in the nearer team, whether his agent or some Jets media rep will encourage Cromartie to retract or "clarify" his comments.)
Sunday, February 2, 2014
As is now common, this past week brought a lot of interesting new stories and commentary in the traditional and new media about new marijuana laws and practices throughout the United States. But, with the biggest annual US sporting event now only a few hours away, I figured I should focus my regular round-up of interesting marijuana news and commentary on matters related to the Super Bowl:
From the AP here, "THC-Hawks? Pot Puns Pack This Super Bowl"
From the Baltimore Sun here, "Ayanbadejo says teammates on one of his Super Bowl teams used marijuana week of game"
From BuzzFeed here, "17 Marijuana Snacks To Eat During The Stoner Bowl, AKA the Bud Bowl, aka Super Bowl XLVIII."
From the Denver Business Journal here, "Pot, Super Bowl don’t mix for most people, poll finds"
From Forbes here, "Dueling Pot Billboards At The Stoner Bowl: Marijuana Is Safer Vs. Marijuana Will Ruin Your Life"
- From a local Seattle Fox station here, "From marijuana to sushi, businesses are riding the Super Bowl frenzy"
From Rolling Stone here, "Which Super Bowl Team's State Is Better for Weed? Comparing the legal marijuana laws for Broncos and Seahawks fans"
- From the Seattle Times here, "Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch inspires Beast Mode pot"
From Time here , "Pot Will See Sales Spike For Super Bowl, Just Like Pizza
From the Washington Post here, "The Super Bowl is the latest front in the fight over legalizing marijuana"
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
- "Super Bowl Attracts a Marijuana Message"
- "Football, Pain and Marijuana"
- NFL not yet actively considering marijuana policy change
Friday, January 31, 2014
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, the medical use of marijuana in the NFL has been getting a lot of attention. A couple of weeks ago, league commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL was open to the possibility of permitting its players to use marijuana for medical purposes (such as pain relief). Today, ProFootballTalk reports that while the league is open to the idea, Goodell has clarified it is "not actively considering" changing its marijuana policy.
Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson is also a supporter [of medical marijuana in the NFL], a view which may be informed by his experiences this season. Robinson suffered from kidney and liver failure due to a bad reaction to a prescription anti-inflammatory, missed much of the season while recovering and thinks that looking into alternative treatment options is a must for the league and the players.
“I think anything that can make our job a little easier without sacrificing our health at the same time is good for the league, it’s good for players,” Robinson said. “I’m all for alternative forms of recovery and all those types of things – hyperbaric chambers, o-zoning, whatever it may be. So, I’m all for it. Whatever can help the player, I’m for.”
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times editorial. Here are excerpts:
In the lead-up to the Super Bowl, in which it so happens both teams hail from states that recently legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, pressure is mounting on the [NFL] to reconsider its ban. A group called the Marijuana Policy Project has even bought space on five billboards in New Jersey, where the game will take place on Sunday, asking why the league disallows a substance that, the group says, is less harmful than alcohol.
It’s a fair question. Marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, for starters, and more than 20 states have legalized it for medical purposes. The league would merely be catching up to contemporary practice by creating a medical exception.
At a news conference on Jan. 7, the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, did not rule out a change in policy. “I don’t know what’s going to develop as far as the next opportunity for medicine to evolve and to help either deal with pain or help deal with injuries,” he said, “but we will continue to support the evolution of medicine.” On Jan. 23, he said the league would “follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that.” There is, in fact, a body of evidence indicating a “proper usage”: one of particular relevance to a hard-hitting, injury-riddled sport.
“Cannabinoids,” the Institute of Medicine reported in 1999, “can have a substantial analgesic effect.” N.F.L. medical experts obviously aren’t convinced, but N.F.L. players seem to be. HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” estimated in January that 50 to 60 percent of players smoked marijuana, many to manage pain.
Players, of course, have access to other painkillers, including prescription drugs. Yet as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders has argued, “marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” As public opinion and state laws move away from strict prohibition, it’s reasonable for the N.F.L. to do the same and let its players deal with their injuries as they — and their private doctors — see fit.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times piece, which includes these passages:
The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the main groups behind the push to legalize marijuana possession in Colorado, posted advertisements on billboards near Mile High Stadium before the first game of the Broncos’ season on Sept. 5.
Now the group has spent $5,000 to rent several 60-foot-wide billboards in New Jersey, within easy driving distance of MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday....
The message is directed at the National Football League, just as it was in Denver, and is repeated in a petition the marijuana group plans to deliver to the N.F.L. on Wednesday. “Why are players punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?” asked Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the group. “In Colorado and Washington State, this is now a legal product, and the N.F.L. has no legitimate reason to be policing marijuana use by players.”...
N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, indicated last week that the league might reconsider its policy on marijuana for medicinal purposes, if research showed that it was a viable treatment for concussions.
There is also a lighter side to the discussion of marijuana and the Super Bowl. There have been many jokes about how Super Bowl XLVIII will be the “stoner bowl” because the Broncos and the Seahawks are from the two states that have moved to legalize marijuana. Bryan Weinman said that was the instigation for the website www.stonerbowl.org.
“It got hatched over a table of beers before the playoff games,” said Mr. Weinman, who has been a nightclub D.J. in Denver. He added that he and several friends “got to joking about what happens if Denver and Seattle ended up in the S.B., how many endless puns would be made by the average individual.”
“We got the easy ones out of the way,” he continued, “and it evolved into somebody saying, ‘What would happen if we put some of this on a T-shirt?' ” And no, he said, they are not marijuana users themselves.
Some recent related posts:
- NFL Commissioner open to medical marijuana as the 2014 pot playoffs continue
- "Denver, Seattle rooting for Marijuana Bowl?"
- More on Marijuana and the NFL
Friday, January 24, 2014
Following this week's excellent HBO Real Sport's piece on the use of medical marijuana by NFL players (if you haven't seen it and have access to HBO On Demand, I definitely recommend it), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked again about the league's marijuana policy.
ProFootballTalk provides the details:
At a press conference to announce the first winners of the “Head Health Challenge” aimed at finding innovative techniques for treating and/or preventing brain injuries, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that, if marijuana can be proven to help players recover from concussions, the league could change its position.
“I’m not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that,” Goodell said, via USA Today. “Our medical experts are not saying that right now.”
In a recent interview with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, NFL senior V.P. of labor law and policy Adolpho Birch told Andrea Kremer that the league would look at anything that could help its players. An Isreali doctor has found via research on mice that marijuana can help in the recovery from traumatic brain injuries.
Many players already believe that marijuana helps manage pain, and they smoke it even though the league says they can’t. For players not already in the substance-abuse program, there’s no chance of testing positive after the annual test to which every player is subjected during the offseason, in a window that opens (coincidentally) on 4/20.
If the federal government ever changes its position regarding marijuana, the NFL may have no choice but to revise its position. The policy as written prohibits the “illegal use” of marijuana; if it’s ever fully legal in jurisdictions like Washington and Colorado, the league won’t have any way to take action against players who live or work there.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
As a bay area sports fan, I'll be rooting for the 49ers and against a marijuana bowl this afternoon. But, marijuana bowl or no, it looks like we may be seeing more in the news about marijuana use in the NFL this coming week. Via ProFootballTalk, HBO's Real Sports will be airing a segment on marijuana us in the NFL this Tuesday. The segment will report that many NFL players prefer using marijuana to conventional pain medications for pain management:
But what about the players who don’t want to use prescription medication, given the potential for addiction and side effects?
“I wouldn’t know . . . how to respond to them other than to say that the NFL and the NFL Players Association have made a determination that marijuana is not a substance for which the exemptions for that type of use would be permitted,” Birch says.
Plenty of players don’t care. Former Broncos tight end Nate Jackson, who smoked marijuana while playing for pain-management purposes, estimates that “maybe half” of the league’s players use marijuana. (Former NFL tackle Lomas Brown previously has pegged marijuana use by the league’s players at 50 percent.)
“For me personally, very viable,” Jackson tells Kremer regarding the benefits of marijuana. “I prefer it. Marijuana was something that helped me, as the season wore on, my body would start to break down. I was in a lot of pain.”
If marijuana is an effective pain medication (and there's good reason to think that it is), its hard to imagine that it wouldn't be a next public health positive for patients to use it in place of opiate-based medicines. Pain is a tricky thing to treat and surely marijuana would not be effective for plenty of patients.
But for those who find it is effective (a group which may include many NFL players from the sound of this story), why not let them use it? Pain is more subjective than most medical problems. To know if a broken bone is healed, you'll go to your doctor for an x-ray. But to know if pain medication is working, physicians have to rely on what the patient says about how much pain they are experiencing. So if a patient reports that marijuana effectively treats their pain, what additional evidence do we need to know that it's working?
Here's a short clip from the HBO special:
Saturday, January 18, 2014
The title of this post is the headline of this amusing, though still serious, new piece from Fox Sports, which picks up on some of the themes I mentioned in this prior post. Here are excerpts:
If all goes as oddsmakers have predicted, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will win the conference championship games on Sunday and gear up for what will be a Super Bowl for the ages. Not because of the talents that will be going head to head, but the first ever Marijuana Bowl? That's something you don't hear every day. These two teams represent the major cities in Colorado and Washington, the only states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that if this ends up being the matchup for the Super Bowl, it will be featuring "the two most pro-cannabis-legalization cities in the US." He joked that the game should be renamed "The Super Oobie Doobie Bowl."
The legalization hasn't been a free-for-all among everyone though. When Jan. 1 came around and Colorado opened its pot shops, it was legal to buy and use the drug on the state level. However, it is still illegal for NFL players who live in the state to use marijuana because it violates the drug policy under the current collective bargaining agreement. The same will go for Washington when their pot doors open this spring.
The NFL is getting pressured by lobbyists to stop penalizing players for smoking pot, saying it could be helpful for getting through concussions and other injuries. The lobbyists are also calling attention to the fact the league is fond of the alcohol industry, such as their relationship with Anheuser-Busch. They pitch Bud Light as the "proud sponsor of the NFL" and even had some ads in rotation showing Budweiser and Bud Light bottles going head-to-head in what they called a "Bud Bowl" game.
Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the pro legalization Marijuana Policy Project in Denver thinks there are more important topics to be discussed instead of getting drowned out in all the beer ads. "Hopefully there will be a break in the beer commercials for some discussion about marijuana laws," he said.
A 48-foot-wide billboard was put up in September by the organization next to Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High, insisting that the NFL needs to "stop driving players to drink" and the "safer choice" for athletes was actually pot. A petition was launched by the group in efforts to get NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to change the league's marijuana policy.
Steve Fox, who works for a marijuana-industry law firm in Denver, wonders since the National Hockey League only tests for performing-enhancing drugs, why can't the NFL do the same? He could have a point since marijuana is not a drug that gives any player a physical edge. "It won't be long before it's unique to have two teams in the Super Bowl that haven't made marijuana legal," Tvert said.
For the states where marijuana is outlawed completely, they've actually had a difficult time in the postseason. The Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals all come from states that have not decriminalized pot. Go figure. "If you noticed, the more marijuana-friendly localities really kicked butt," Fox said. "I don't know what it really means in the grand scheme of things, but it's a nice bit of karma if nothing else."