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NFL Explores How Marijuana And CBD Can Be Used As Opioid Alternatives For Players

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The National Football League and NFL Players Association are launching an effort to learn about the potential of marijuana and its components like CBD as alternative treatment options for pain.

They’re also more generally interested in discovering how cannabis use affects athletic performance.

A request for information that was published on Tuesday states that the league’s goal is “to identify investigators who have the current capability to carry out studies aimed at supplementing the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee’s (‘PMC’) knowledge about pain management and athletic performance in NFL players.”

The notice lists three areas of interest:

1. The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered to be alternatives to opioids in routine pain management of NFL players. Medications may include, but are not limited to, cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (“CBD”).

2. The impact of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in NFL players.

3. The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered adjunctive to routine post-surgical orthopedic pain management in NFL football players.

The joint NFL-NFLPA committee also noted that, in 2020, it held two informational forums on CBD “to learn about the current state of CBD science and manufacturing in North America.”

The findings of those forums weren’t definitive, as PMC found that while the non-intoxicating cannabis compound shows promise in the treatment of some forms of pain, the science doesn’t currently live up to the “hype.”

“CBD is a promising compound, but the level of its use in the United States outpaces the level of research at this point,” the committee wrote in a white paper for players. “Most of the hype about CBD is based upon results from animal studies.”

This new request for information stresses that NFL is not committing to funding any particular studies but is more generally meant to help the league find qualified scientists if it does move forward with research projects on these issues. Interested parties have until March 31 to submit relevant information.

Meanwhile, the league’s drug testing policy changed demonstrably last year as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Under the new policy, NFL players will not face the possibility of being suspended from games over positive tests for any drug—not just marijuana.

The decision reflects a significant shift in the league’s approach to drug use by players, with the agreement emphasizing the need to focus on “ensuring evaluation and treatment” rather than punishment. Now those who test positive for drugs, exhibit behaviors that indicate drug misuse or self-refer themselves will be required to enter an “intervention program” where they would receive an evaluation and treatment plan.

Testing positive for prohibited substances after that point would result in a half-week salary loss for first violations, a one-week salary loss for second violations, a two-week salary loss for third violations and a three-week salary loss for fourth and subsequent violations. The threat of suspensions would be removed.

In a similar vein, the MLB decided in 2019 to remove cannabis from the league’s list of banned substances. Baseball players can consume marijuana without risk of discipline, but officials clarified last year that they can’t work while under the influence and can’t enter into sponsorship contracts with cannabis businesses, at least for the time being.

Meanwhile, a temporary NBA policy not to randomly drug test players for marijuana amid the coronavirus pandemic may soon become permanent, the league’s top official said in December. Rather than mandate blanket tests, Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would be reaching out to players who show signs of problematic dependency, not those who are “using marijuana casually.”

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Image element courtesy of Marco Verch.

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