- Every youth football player dreams of one day making it to the NFL. A small percentage of them will go on to start for their high school football team. 6 percent of them will land offers to play at the collegiate level. 1.5 percent of standout college players will be drafted by an NFL team where they will go on to make millions of dollars to play a game. Despite beating the odds, many choose to risk their hard fought fame and fortune to smoke cannabis. Under the current NFL Marijuana Policy, players are not permitted to smoke marijuana regardless of its legality in the state that they play in, yet many still do. According to Tank Johnson, an appropriately named 6’3, 315-pound defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, 70-80% of NFL players smoke marijuana.
Pervasive Pain in the NFL
Why do so many NFL players find it necessary to smoke cannabis? Pain. These elite athletes play arguably the most physical sport in the world. Concussions, torn muscles, and broken bones are an expected hazard that comes with the job. Dealing with pain is a challenge that faces every player in the NFL. Their paycheck depends on them staying healthy so that they can perform on the field. Medical marijuana for pain management is a logical answer, especially considering the widely used alternative, opioids. Cannabis is far less addictive or risky than opioids.
Opioids are Not the Answer
The NFL’s answer to this dilemma is to have team doctors provide injured players with a plethora of opioids. NFL doctors work for the team and are under just as much pressure to get the players to on the field as the players are to perform once they’re on it. The dangers of opioids are well-known. Addiction, physical dependence, breathing and heart problems, are just some of the baggage that comes with its use.
According to a recent VICE interview with Marcellus Wiley, a former NFL defensive end, a team doctor prescribed him the painkiller Toradol to help him deal with the pain of a broken foot. Wiley has had asthma since he was a child and claims that every NFL team that he played for knew of his condition. Toradol is not supposed to be taken by somebody who has asthma. “Did I know that?” Wiley asked. “Hell no. How would I know that? I trusted someone who does know that.”
Wiley is one of many players that used painkillers to stay on the field. A study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine found that 52% of retired NFL players said they used prescription painkillers during their playing time.
NFL Marijuana Policy
There is almost unanimous support among NFL players to at least lighten the restrictions placed on medical marijuana. The NFL is notorious for having strict requirements that must be met in their drug testing. According to the NFL Marijuana Policy, the threshold for THC is 35 nanograms per milliliter, compare this to the 150 nanograms per milliliter per threshold used by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the agency that oversees the Olympics, and you can see why players are up in arms.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has continued their efforts to change NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s opinion on his strict stance on cannabis use, and they have recently been joined by NFL owner Jerry Jones. Jones has called on the NFL to end its prohibition on marijuana and enforce rules that more closely reflect cannabis in its current political and legal state.
Cannabis has been shown to be mostly safe and effective to treat chronic pain if the user is educated by their doctor. No one has ever died from overdosing on cannabis and most who use it find that quitting isn’t a major problem. Though marijuana appears to be a logical alternative to opioids in the NFL, the stigmatization of cannabis is again slowing any real change to an agonizing crawl.