Seven states passed new laws expanding legal access to marijuana this past election, allowing citizens in more than half of the states in this country to use the drug either recreationally or for medical purposes. Despite this, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug, the highest and most dangerous classification indicating that it has a high potential for abuse and has no accepted use for medical treatments. Other drugs in this category include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
The National Football League, along with other professional sports leagues, bans the use of marijuana for any reason, medical or otherwise. However, a growing number of former players and advocates are calling on the NFL to change their policies to allow the players to use this potentially safer and better way to manage the pain that comes along with playing a full-contact sport.
Dealing With Pain
The NFL is known for bone-crunching, body-destroying hits. ESPN, one of the largest sports-focused television channels on the planet, used to air a segment called ‘Jacked Up’ where they would feature the most brutal hits from the past week’s games. It was eventually cancelled after enough of the general public began calling out the network for seemingly glorifying the dangerous nature of football while ignoring growing concerns about player safety.
While the attention and rules in the sport may have shifted away from explosive tackles and towards issues like concussions, nothing can change the fact that football is one of the most physical sports in America. While the players may seem like invincible men who laugh at the mere concept of pain, that façade can’t last forever – they are still human, after all, and humans often need help dealing with pain.
Kyle Turley, a retired offensive lineman who played for the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs from 1998 through 2007 is one of a growing number of retired NFL players calling attention to the serious pain they still suffer, and the effects of the prescription painkillers they were given to deal with that pain while spending their lives playing football. In a video posted to Gridiron Cannabis Coalition’s website, an organization that he helped co-found and is “dedicated to the advancement of medical marijuana in the modern age,” he gives viewers a look at the number of highly addictive drugs he used to take.
“What are all these drugs that I’ve taken since 1996? Depakote, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Vicodin, Flexeril, Percocets, Vioxx, Morphine, Toradol, Cortizone,” said Turley, listing each drug as he slapped a new container down on the counter. But now, he only uses marijuana. “Just this, right here, that’s all you need, that’s about two hits,” he said, holding up a small marijuana bud. “And that’s all you need if you find your strain.”
Research Backs Up Their Claims
While federal regulations make it difficult to conduct research on Schedule 1 drugs, the results are slowly coming in as more and more medical professionals turn their expertise towards looking at the effects and potential uses of marijuana. Daniel Clauw, a professor at the University of Michigan who conducted studies comparing marijuana to opioids, spoke with the Washington Post back in June about his findings.
“In my mind, there’s no comparison if we just started from scratch in the year 2016 and looked newly at which class of drugs worked better to treat pain and side-effect profile up to and including death, in the case of opioids. You put the two next to each other, and there really is no debate which is more effective to treat pain. You would go the cannabinoid route instead of the opiate route.”
While the NFL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement lasts until 2020, the NFL Players Association is reportedly looking into alternatives to opiates as a pain management issue, and is in the process of putting together a committee to conduct their study. If recent elections are any indication, it’s likely that the NFLPA will make a strong push to allow for this potentially safer pain management alternative to prescription painkillers. So far, eight NFL teams play already in places that allow for the recreational use of marijuana:
- San Francisco 49ers
- Oakland Raiders
- Los Angeles Rams
- San Diego Chargers
- New England Patriots
- Seattle Seahawks
- Denver Broncos
- Washington Redskins
Another 15 teams play in states that allow for the medical use of marijuana, leaving only 9 in states where the drug remains illegal. The only teams remaining in states where use of the drug is banned are:
- Houston Texans
- Indianapolis Colts
- Tennessee Titans
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Dallas Cowboys
- Green Bay Packers
- Atlanta Falcons
- Carolina Panthers
- New Orleans Saints
Whatever path the NFL chooses to follow in the coming years, the evidence about the dangers of opiates can’t be ignored – thousands of people become addicted to these drugs every year, and thousands more die from overdoses. While Turley managed to break free from his addiction on his own terms, not many people manage to follow in his footsteps and regain control of their lives without assistance.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Schick Shadel Hospital is here to help. For more than 80 years, we’ve helped more than 80,000 people overcome their addictions through our counter conditioning program. Taking the first step can be hard, but our trained professionals are ready to guide you all the way to the finish line. Give us a call at (800) 272-8464 to learn more about the services we offer or fill out our online form to send us a confidential message.