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NFL Pledges to Fund $1 Million for Medical Marijuana Research

The NFL, through a committee formed with the player’s union, plans to fund up to $1 million in research into the potential use of marijuana to treat pain. Former players have strongly pushed for this policy in the past few years as an alternative to prescription opioids.

The initiative is the work of a committee formed in 2020 by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, called the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee (PMC). 

The PMC focuses on all pain-related issues for NFL players, including finding alternatives to using prescription opioids. Past studies show that people outside professional sports have taken the issue into their own hands. For example, several studies show opioid prescriptions drop in places that legalize marijuana. 

Focus of the research 

In 2020, the PMC held two forums about CBD, gathering information on its potential uses. In 2021, the committee sought information from researchers who study pain management alternatives. They’ve learned enough to move forward with new research.

The committee recently requested research proposals that focus on “pain management and the potential effects of pain and cannabinoids on athletic performance in elite football players.”

The research will focus on three areas:

The effects of cannabinoids on elite football players for both post-surgical and/or daily pain management The effects of non-pharmacologic treatments on pain in elite football players for both post-surgical and/or daily pain management The effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance (e.g., psychomotor, reaction time, cardiorespiratory function) in elite football players

The committee expects to spend “up to” $1 million to fund five research projects. Funding decisions are expected to be made in December 2021. 

Past research is inconclusive 

In a call with reporters, Dr. Kevin Hill, co-chairman of the committee and director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Division of Addiction Psychiatry, said that past research shows “some” benefits for using marijuana to manage pain, but more study is needed.

“We want to really find out, are these treatments safe and do they work? This research is aimed at trying to move toward getting more definitive answers to those questions," he said.

Certainly, plenty of players have advocated the use of marijuana to manage pain. They include former  stars Joe Montana, Calvin Johnson, Franco Harris and Ricky Williams.

But the NFL has been slow to allow players to use cannabis for any reason. The league just last year signed a new collective bargaining agreement with players that no longer requires them to get suspended if they are found with THC in the bloodstream. However, players do still face fines.

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