NFL Marijuana Research Will Look Into Pain Management, Concussions

The National Football League has awarded $1 million in funding for research into the health and wellness potential of cannabis, specifically it’s use for pain management and as a neuroprotection against concussions in NFL players.

The awarding of the study follows through on a plan first announced by the NFL in the summer of 2021. The NFL marijuana research funding is going to the University of California-San Diego, which will study pain management, and the University of Regina, which will study concussions. The NFL picked the two schools out of 106 submissions.

“The specific goal of this project is to determine whether cannabis/hemp based cannabinoids can be used safely and effectively for pain management and to reduce the use of prescription medications including opioids in post-concussion syndrome athletes,” the NFL said in a statement. “An additional goal is to assess the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids to reduce the incidence or severity of acute and chronic concussion in professional football players.”

The Study Comes From a Committee That Includes Players

The decision to move forward with NFL marijuana research came from a committee the NFL formed with the player’s union. The committee, called the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee (PMC), formed in 2020 to focus on better ways for the league to help players manage the pain that is part of the game.

Many former players have pushed for in the past few years for studies into alternatives for prescription opioids, including cannabis. Part of the PMCs work will investigate alternatives to opioids. Outside of the NFL, studies have already shown that opioid prescriptions drop in places that legalize marijuana.

The separate studies will look at two potential uses of medical marijuana.

NFL Cannabis Research Into Pain Management, Concussion

The UC-San Diego study will assess the “therapeutic efficacy and adverse effects” of THC and CBD on the relief of post-competition soft tissue pain in football players.

According to the NFL statement, players will vaporize treatments following game-related injuries, with the outcomes monitored via remote phone apps. “The findings from this study will provide key, preliminary data regarding the possible effectiveness of cannabinoids for sports-related injuries and inform future larger studies regarding study design and implementation challenges.” according to the statement.

The University of Regina study will focus on whether THC and CBD can safely and effectively “for pain management and to reduce the use of prescription medications including opioids in post-concussion syndrome athletes.”

The team working on the study includes cerebrovascular and neuro-physiologists, clinical psychologists, pharmacokineticists, and physicians. The researchers seek to “provide a foundation” for exploring alternative medical care for brain trauma.

What the research finds will be of interest for cannabis consumers, But just the fact that a major sports league is bankrolling two large studies in medical marijuana seems like a turning point for cannabis, moving it even further into the mainstream.

In the NFL statement, Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer, said the idea behind the NFL marijuana research is to ensure players get care that reflects the “most up-to-date medical consensus.” He added, “We are grateful that we have the opportunity to fund these scientifically-sound studies on the use of cannabinoids that may lead to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact the pain management of our players.”

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