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NFL Invests $1 Million in Cannabis Research


The National Football League (NFL) is offering $1 Million in grants for up to five research proposals. This was announced by Jeff Miller, the executive vice president of player health and safety, in a call with media on Tuesday, June 8th, 2021. The NFL is interested in finding other ways for players to control their pain incurred while playing football besides addictive opioids. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, spoke on the media call saying, “This isn’t an NFL or a sports issue; this is a societal issue”. The NFL wants to know that any treatments involving cannabis or CBD would be both effective as well as safe for their athletes.

This new outlook on cannabis is a shift from past viewpoints of the NFL. Currently, under NFL policy and negotiated contracts with the Player’s Union, marijuana use of any kind is outlawed. The League seems in the past to have defaulted to United States federal policies on marijuana. These new grants proposed seem to be a beginning of a new outlook.

This announcement by Jeff Miller and the NFL is not a direct or immediate acceptance of wholesale use but is a good sign for current players who may want the option. Current and former players alike have seen the effects of the NFL’s drug policy. Notable former Cleveland Brown/New England Patriot/Seattle Seahawk wide receiver Josh Gordon was one such affected player. Since being drafted in the 2012 Supplemental Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Gordon has been suspended multiple times by the League for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Since 2012, Gordon has spent more time suspended than he has active on an NFL roster. No doubt a gifted athlete, he has been unable to live up to his full potential, however, partially due to the NFL’s stance on marijuana.

Many states around the country have already legalized recreational marijuana, some of which are the homes of pro-NFL teams. Among those states that have legalized marijuana and have NFL franchises are:

  • Washington
  • California
  • Nevada
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Massachusetts

Of those states that have legalized recreational marijuana, there are thirteen teams that play in those states. Many other states have partially legalized marijuana, especially in medicinal situations.

On the other side of the coin, there are opponents to the NFL’s current substance abuse policy that would cite the rising opioid epidemic as a reason to find other, possibly safer ways for players to manage their pain. While many players suffer from pain management issues from their careers, one famous example was Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Brett had been quoted about his Vicodin addiction saying, “I tell people all the time that I took 15 Vicodin ES at one time. And they’re like, ‘It didn’t knock you out?’ It did totally the opposite — I was up. And that’s kind of the way with addictions, too. What it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t”.

According to Favre, the average monthly subscription he would receive was a thirty pill supply. He would often use up the entire month’s supply in two days. He finally ended his use and went off of them cold turkey, but recounted he was suffering from side effects of withdrawal for months after. Coincidentally, this same year of Favre stopping his usage, the Green Bay Packers went on to win Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots.

Overall, the NFL is still investigating the best courses of action regarding cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD). They want to wait for more studies to be done to have all of the facts possible before making any policy changes. 


Suggested Readings:

NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee Accepting Applications for $1 Million in Research Funding

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