Can NFL players use weed to treat their work-related injuries?
NO. The NFL prohibits its players from using marijuana. This is the rule regardless of whether pot is used recreationally or medically. As with many workers in America, weed use is forbidden for NFL players, even if it’s legal in their state.
NFL players are tested for marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, and other illegal drugs once a year. If a player tests positive, the league places him in an intervention program where the player is tested more frequently and could face penalties like suspension. This confines players to other pain-killing options. According to some cursory research, the painkiller du jour for NFL players is Toradol shots. If that sounds like something someone would give to a horse via syringe, it is.
Pro football takes quite the toll on a person’s body; the guys who play are uncommonly big and fast, and forever in each other’s way. A good number of them need pain relief after every game, and using prescription painkillers can lead to abuse and addiction. Please note that repeated head jostling is common in football. Head trauma can lead to many terrible afflictions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), memory loss, impaired judgment, aggression, confusion, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, dementia, and suicide.
The nexus of football and brain injuries made headlines throughout last year, mostly due to high-profile litigation that found its way to the US Supreme Court. Today, that litigation is more or less resolved: Without admitting fault, the NFL will pay $1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit brought by retired players because of all the head injuries. That may sound like a lot of money, but the settlement covers 20,000 retirees for the next 65 years. Also, league revenues were projected at over $13 billion in 2016 alone.
Promising studies indicate that cannabis may be effective in treating injuries afflicting NFL players. A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found medical marijuana effective in treating chronic pain, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information identified neuroprotective effects of THC that may lower mortality for people with injured brains. Despite these findings, the NFL continues to punish gentlemen who test positive for marijuana.
Legally speaking, and under its collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the NFL is entitled to test, suspend, and fire players for cannabis use. However, the NFL’s policy is discretionary and the league could change it. The National Hockey League did exactly that, removing cannabis from its “banned substances” list a while back. That league has stopped testing for cannabis and hell has not frozen over, nor has the ice on its rinks melted.
NFL players are set to negotiate their CBA with the league in 2020, when the existing one expires. The players’ resolve, changing public sentiment, scientific studies, and common sense may all inspire the NFL to follow the NHL’s lead and stop testing for cannabis. For now, though, it’s ice baths and Toradol.