The NFL made a big move in early February 2022 when it announced plans to invest $1 million in cannabis research. The league, working with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), has formed the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC) with the goal of understanding whether cannabis is a better option for pain management and preventing concussions.
News reports say that the committee has selected UC San Diego and Canada’s University of Regina to carry out the research. The entire project is expected to take up to three years to complete. At the conclusion of the study, the NFL is expected to reconsider its pain management protocols.
Cannabis and Chronic Pain
Medical cannabis is now legal in thirty-eight states. In all those states, chronic pain is considered a qualifying condition. It should not be surprising to anyone that chronic pain is the most cited condition for which people use medical cannabis. It is by far the most cited reason in Utah, according to the owners of the Pure Utah medical cannabis pharmacy in Payson.
They say that using medical cannabis for pain management is more about a patient being disassociated from their pain than the pain being eliminated. But of course, every patient reacts to the drug differently. Some may experience a complete elimination of their pain while others are simply better able to tolerate it because the drug takes the edge off.
NFL players say they want the ability to choose medical cannabis over opioid painkillers without risking eligibility. But in order for that to happen, the league has to change its drug policies. Investing in cannabis research is a step in that direction. Assuming their research confirms that which medical cannabis patients have been saying all along, NFL players could be given access within the next four to five years.
State Laws Would Apply
Any move by the NFL too allow medical cannabis would still be subject to state laws. This is assuming that Washington makes no move to legalize cannabis before the NFL concludes its research. If Washington moves to complete decriminalization, that would be another matter.
The probability is high that federal decriminalization would put cannabis in the same league as alcohol. Washington would regulate to some degree but leave most of the rules to the states to figure out. That could mean some states remain highly restrictive while others more openly embrace cannabis in every form.
We could see Utah continuing to limit cannabis use to medical purposes. Likewise, we could see them continuing their current program without a whole lot of adjustments. On the other hand, we could see more liberal states completely do away with regulated medical cannabis. The only way to know for sure how the states would react is to get to decriminalization.
Keeping Up with Players
In the NFL’s case, they have a vested interest in keeping up with their players. The players have made it abundantly clear that they want access too medical cannabis. If the league rejected an invitation to conduct legitimate research, they would find themselves at a disadvantage when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. But by forming a committee with the NFLPA and moving forward, they are showing that they are willing to work with players on a compromise.
No one knows for sure what the research will turn up. But if it ends up being anything like previous studies, it will show that medical cannabis is a very effective treatment for chronic pain. If all goes well, NFL players could be using it just a few years from now.