Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Could NFL's survival depend on medical marijuana breakthrough?

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:

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2015/10/could-nfls-survival-depend-on-medical-marijuana-breakthrough-.html

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