NFL seeking information on cannabis as an alternative to opioids

By , Audacy

The NFL appears to be in the fact-finding stage of potentially allowing players to use cannabis products as an alternative to prescription-strength painkillers such as opioids.

The NFL's Pain Management Commission, a group run jointly by the players' association and the league, has issued a request for information on the use of "medications and non-pharmacological interventions" that might be used instead of the highly addictive pills.

The medications of interest "may include, but are not limited to, cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD)," according to a statement released this week.

CBD is the second-most present cannabinoid found in cannabis products, and is said to provide relief for a variety of ailments, including general pain management, with mild or no psychoactive effects. The most common cannabinoid, THC, accounts for the "high."

CBD-only cannabis products are commonly prescribed or consumed for medical purposes.

The NFL finally loosened its cannabis testing policy last offseason, amid mounting public sentiment in favor of decriminalization and, in some states, full legalization for both medical and recreational purposes -- including states that are home to several NFL franchises.

Suspensions for positive cannabis tests no longer exist, while the threshold for positive tests was significantly raised.

The league's old regulations treated a cannabis infraction roughly as seriously as performance-enhancers or hard drugs like cocaine, loosely mirroring the federal government's continued listing of pot as a Schedule I drug.

The draconian approach cost many prominent players years of their careers, most famously star running back Ricky Williams, who briefly retired from the game in his prime after a fourth positive test.

Williams said his body had taken a pounding while shouldering a heavy load as the Dolphins' feature back, and he was using cannabis to ease his aches and pains.

The league also has requested information about “the impact of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in NFL players.”

Countless NFL players have battled opioid addiction and its debilitating effects in recent decades.

Brett Favre, Ryan Leaf, Calvin Johnson, Eugene Monroe, Jeff Hatch and Travis Kelce are just a few notables among the many who have spoken out about a medical culture awash in prescription painkillers -- anything to get the players out on the field.

Of course, the NFL's opioid troubles is but a symptom of a national crisis, one that has hit post-industrial communities the hardest.

Opioid addiction is often cited as one of several so-called diseases of despair which have contributed to an unprecedented decline in US life expectancy in recent years.

Last year, the pharmaceutical firm Purdue Pharma pled guilty and was slapped with an $8B fine for its role in the crisis. Earlier this month, the famed PR firm McKinsey reached a $600M settlement with 49 states for its role in encouraging the drugmaker to "supercharge" sales of the drug OxyContin despite an overdose epidemic.

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