In the summer of 2017, a study that looked at the brains of 111 dead NFL players found signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in all but one. The condition is the result of consistent head trauma sustained on the field and can cause serious mental health issues. Unfortunately, the league has chosen to deal with this issue in the most controversial way possible.
A recently amended lawsuit from 2015 alleges that the NFL overmedicates their players with an emphasis on returning them to the field as soon as possible. The court documents stated that “Players are not informed of the long-term health effects of taking controlled substances and prescription medications in the amounts given to them.”
A study out of St. Louis’ Washington University found that retired players were four times more likely to abuse prescription painkillers with just over 70 percent of the 644 players interviewed saying they misused prescription drugs.
Meanwhile, players have opted for self-medication in the face of a failed policy. The wide use of cannabis in the league has become something of an open secret with many players recently admitting that up to 70 percent of the league smokes regularly. Players often cite the mentally relaxing and pain-relieving effects as the ideal medication.
Yet that self-medication has come at a price. Last season alone, 26 players were suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse.
Players are reportedly tested only once a year – unless they have a history of being caught – which allows them to schedule their cannabis consumption around the testing period and smoke for the rest of the year.
In recent years, the league has taken steps toward a more open policy toward cannabis. In 2014 they agreed to change the threshold of THC content for their drug tests from 15 nanograms to 35, though even that increase is enough to get anyone who smokes suspended.
This summer the NFL agreed to work with the league’s Players Association to study the effects of cannabis and its potential as a treatment for CTE.
Recently, HERB brought together four retired NFL stars—Marvin Washington, Grant Mattos, Leonard Marshall and Eben Britton—to talk about why medical marijuana is so important for players. Not only just for treating CTE—which researchers now believe can be treated with cannabis—but also for replacing the dangerous opioids that leave so many players feeling depressed, aggravated and in many cases addicted.
As Washington says, “They have to have an alternative. Look at something that's non-toxic. Non-addictive. Has never killed anybody. And I always say I’ve seen plenty of guys leave the game addicted to pain pills. I’ve never seen anybody leave the game addicted to marijuana.”