Opioid use is a major concern for athletes that compete at all levels. Athletes are at a higher risk of getting injured compared to non-athletes, and whenever there is an injury involved the potential for opioid abuse becomes a very real threat.
Professional sports leagues have been struggling to reduce opioid abuse among players, and retired athletes have been scrambling to find ways to battle the issue on their own. Fortunately for athletes, there is a plant that can help according to a growing body of research. That plant is, of course, the cannabis plant.
The results of two studies were released recently which found that increased access to cannabis leads to a reduction in opioid use. Below is more information about it from our friends at Americans for Safe Access:
New research has been released that further highlights the potential role of medical cannabis in combating the Nation’s opioid crisis . Two studies, published on April 2nd by the Journal of the American Medical Association reveal a net decrease in opioid prescriptions in states with medical cannabis laws for Medicare and Medicaid populations.
The first study, conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia, found that states with active medical cannabis dispensaries saw 3,742,000 fewer daily doses per year filled for prescription opioids under Medicare Part D (typically enrollees are over 65) compared to states without medical cannabis programs. This decrease equates to about a 14% reduction in opioid prescriptions in states with medical cannabis laws. The other study revealed that states with medical cannabis laws were associated with a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescribing for individuals enrolled in Medicaid (typically enrollees are low income) than states without medical cannabis laws.
“This research continues to validate the notion that cannabis is an effective tool in pain management” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director for Americans for Safe Access. “The latest numbers show us that there were over 64,000 opioid deaths last year. We need to be doing more to fight this epidemic, especially by making sure that individuals suffering from chronic pain have the option to use non-addictive, effective pain treatments like medical cannabis.”
In January 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found significant evidence that cannabis is effective at treating pain in some conditions. Previously published research has indicated that states with medical cannabis laws have shown up to a 25% reduction in opioid deaths and that states with medical cannabis dispensaries have shown reductions in opioid overdose deaths by as much as 40%.
In response to the ongoing opioid crisis, Americans for Safe Access, in partnership with the U.S. Pain Foundation and other advocacy organizations launched the End Pain, Not Lives campaign in late 2017. The campaign focuses on making cannabis an option for pain management.
More can be found about the campaign here.
Opioid use is a very big problem for professional sports leagues. The United States consumes opioids at a greater rate than other countries, and professional athletes consume opioids at a greater rate than the general population. For instance, former National Football League (NFL) players consume opioids at four times the rate of the general population. That is alarming, to say the least.
With that in mind, it’s extremely important for professional sports leagues to explore and incorporate all viable options for reducing opioid consumption rates by their athletes. A number of studies have found that increased access to cannabis can help lower opioid consumption rates which is why the Uncle Cliffy team has advocated so much for leagues to free the plant. We will continue to do so until the leagues show the proper level of compassion for their players.
Below is a press release that was issued today by our friends at NORML which discusses cannabis access and links to lower opioid use:
Patients routinely reduce or eliminate their use of prescription opiates following the use of medical cannabis; two recently published studies reaffirm this relationship.
“The consensus of the available data indicates that cannabis may play a potentially valuable role in mitigating the opioid public health crisis. It is time to set aside canna-bigotry and to stop placing politics ahead of American lives,” said Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director.
In the first study, published by the Minnesota Department of Health, investigators assessed the prescription drug use patterns of 2,245 intractable pain patients participating in the state’s medical cannabis access program. Among those patients known to be taking opiates for pain upon enrollment in the program, 63 percent “were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months.” The findings are similar to those of registered patients in other states’ medical cannabis programs, including Illinois, Michigan, and New Mexico, among others.
In the second study, Israeli researchers assessed the safety and efficacy of cannabis in a cohort of over 1,200 cancer patients over a period of six months. Ninety-six percent of patients “reported an improvement in their condition.” Nearly half of respondents reported either decreasing or eliminating their use of opioids during the treatment period.
A third recently published clinical trial provides insight into explaining this relationship. Investigators from the United States and Australia and assessed the efficacy of inhaled cannabis and sub-therapeutic doses of oxycodone on experimentally-induced pain in a double-blind, placebo-controlled model. Researchers assessed subjects’ pain tolerance after receiving both substances separately or in concert with one another. While neither the administration of cannabis nor oxycodone alone significantly mitigated subjects’ pain, the combined administration of both drugs did so effectively.
Authors determined, “Both active cannabis and a low dose of oxycodone (2.5 mg) were sub-therapeutic, failing to elicit analgesia on their own; however, when administered together, pain responses … were significantly reduced, pointing to the opioid-sparing effects of cannabis.” They concluded, “Smoked cannabis combined with an ineffective analgesic dose of oxycodone produced analgesia comparable to an effective opioid analgesic dose without significantly increasing cannabis’s abuse liability.”
The new studies add to the growing body of research finding that cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, opioid-related traffic fatalities, opioid-related drug treatment admissions, and opioid-related overdose deaths.
Additional information regarding the association between cannabis and opioids is available from NORML’s fact-sheet here.
It is estimated that Americans consume roughly 80% of the world’s opioids, despite America making up only 5% of the world’s population. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that over 30,000 Americans die from an opioid overdose every year. The problem is even worse among professional athletes. Retired NFL players consume opioids at four times the rate of other Americans. It’s a serious problem that needs to be properly addressed both inside and outside of the professional sports world, and Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer thinks that cannabis can help.
United States Representative Earl Blumenauer is Cliff Robinson’s Representative. Congressman Blumenauer has been a champion of cannabis reform in the political world for a very long time, having led the effort in Oregon’s Legislature in 1973 to push for cannabis decriminalization. The successful effort made Oregon the first state in the nation to decriminalize cannabis.
Congressman Blumenauer has either sponsored, co-sponsored, or strongly supported every pro-cannabis reform measure that has been introduced in Congress since he became a United States Representative in 1996. Congressman Blumenauer recently testified in support of medical cannabis as a safer alternative to opioids in front of the Energy and Commerce Committee, video footage of which can be found below:
Congressman Bluemenauer’s passionate testimony is important for reform efforts aimed at changing cannabis policies in professional sports. Federal prohibition is often cited as a reason to keep cannabis prohibition in place in professional sports, so any movement in Congress is going to help build momentum for cannabis reform in the sports world. The Uncle Cliffy team fully supports Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s efforts to reform federal cannabis laws, especially efforts geared towards promoting cannabis as a safer alternative to harmful opioids. A number of studies have shown that cannabis can help reduce opioid use. Below are a number of them, as found on our sports cannabis studies page:
“The treatment of chronic pain with medicinal cannabis in this open-label, prospective cohort resulted in improved pain and functional outcomes, and a significant reduction in opioid use.” – Haroutounian S, Ratz Y, Ginosar Y, Furmanov K, Saifi F, Meidan R, Davidson E. (2016)
“Among respondents that regularly used opioids, over three-quarters (76.7%) indicated that they reduced their use since they started medical cannabis.” – Piper BJ1,2,3, DeKeuster RM4,5, Beals ML6, Cobb CM4,7, Burchman CA8,9, Perkinson L10, Lynn ST10, Nichols SD11, Abess AT12 (2017)
“Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use (n = 118), decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life (45%). This study suggests that many CP patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for CP treatment, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications.” – Boehnke KF, Litinas E, Clauw DJ. (2016)
“All prescriptions for scheduled medications must be reported to the New Mexico Prescription Monitoring Program with opiates and benzodiazepines being the two most common. Based on these prescription records, patients enrolled in the medical cannabis program reduced the monthly average number of prescriptions, types of prescriptions (drug classes), number of prescribers, and number of related pharmacy visits. 71% of medical cannabis program enrollees either ceased or reduced their use of scheduled prescriptions within 6 months of enrolling.” – Stith, S. S., et al (2017)
“The growing body of research supporting the medical use of cannabis as an adjunct or substitute for opioids creates an evidence-based rationale for governments, health care providers, and academic researchers to consider the implementation and assessment of cannabis-based interventions in the opioid crisis.” – Philippe Lucas (2017)
“The majority of patients in this study believed that medical marijuana is a valid treatment and that it does have a role in reducing post-injury and post-operative pain. Those patients who used marijuana during their recovery felt that it alleviated symptoms of pain and reduced their opioid intake.” – Heng, Marilyn MD, MPH, FRCSC; McTague, Michael F. MPH; Lucas, Robert C. BA; Harris, Mitchel B. MD; Vrahas, Mark S. MD; Weaver, Michael J. MD (2017)
When people play sports and/or live an active lifestyle, repetitive motions and impacts can wear down a person’s body. Sometimes that wear and tear leads to injuries. A large percentage of athletes sustain musculoskeletal injuries. A musculoskeletal injury is an injury or disorder that affects the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).
The injuries can come in many forms, including tendonitis, muscle/tendon strains, ligament strains, and ruptured/herniated discs. Sometimes the conditions can be treated by a primary physician, but other times treatment involves surgery. People suffering from musculoskeletal injuries often turn to opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs to help deal with their condition. Opioids can lead to severe addiction, are harmful for the human body, and often are ineffective.
More and more athletes and people that live active lifestyles are turning to cannabis for relief. A recent study was conducted at two trauma centers in Massachusetts which looked at cannabis use for treating musculoskeletal injuries. The study found that cannabis was an effective treatment. Per the study:
Results: The majority of patients felt that marijuana could be used to treat pain (78%, 390) and anxiety (62%, 309). Most patients (60%, 302) had used marijuana at least once previously, while only 14% reported using marijuana following their injury. Of those that used marijuana during their recovery, 90% (63/70) believed that it reduced symptoms of pain; and 81% (57/70) believed that it reduced the amount of opioid pain medication they used.
Conclusions: The majority of patients in this study believed that medical marijuana is a valid treatment and that it does have a role in reducing post-injury and post-operative pain. Those patients who used marijuana during their recovery felt that it alleviated symptoms of pain and reduced their opioid intake. Our results help inform clinicians regarding the perceptions of trauma patients regarding the usefulness of marijuana in treating pain, and support further study into the utility of medical marijuana in this population.
This study builds on other studies that have found that cannabis can not only help those suffering from pain, but also helped reduce the patients’ reliance on harmful opioids. If you know someone that suffers from a musculoskeletal injury, make sure to share the results of this study with them. If you personally suffer from a musculoskeletal injury, and live in a state where cannabis is legal, the Uncle Cliffy team recommends that you consider trying cannabis as a form of treatment.
It is no secret that many professional athletes use painkillers at an alarming rate. A study from 2011 looked at retired NFL players and their painkiller use. The study found that 7% of retired NFL players still used painkillers on a regular basis. That’s four times the rate of the rest of society. The statistic is for players that are retired. It’s a safe assumption that the already alarmingly high number for retired players is even greater for current players. An ESPN survey of NFL players put the number at 46%, although that statistic is based off of player views, and not actual tracked usage.
42% of surveyed NFL players stated that they knew a fellow player that had become addicted to painkillers. If those numbers aren’t horrifying enough, consider how widespread the use of the harmful painkiller Toradol was/is in the NFL. Sports cannabis freedom fighter Eugene Monroe provided the following description of a game day ritual in an article he wrote for The Player’s Tribune:
Before kickoff on game day, in NFL locker rooms all over the country, players wait in line to drop their pants. We call it the T Train.
I play for the Baltimore Ravens, and if we’re at home there’s a small office sectioned off from the training room in M&T Bank Stadium that we use. If we’re on the road the visiting locker rooms don’t usually have sufficient space, so we just go to a corner of the training room. The T Train is nothing more than a bunch of really large guys waiting to pull their pants down to get shot in the butt with Toradol, a powerful painkiller that will help them make it through the game and its aftermath.
Instead of an injection, some players opt for an oral form of Toradol. The effects are the same, though, and can last through the next day. Some guys don’t feel any pain for two days. Of course, that’s the point of these drugs — they block out the pain and reduce inflammation. But they also temporarily mask injury. That’s not a good thing if you get hurt during a game — you might need to address your injuries right away. But you feel nothing, so you do nothing.
The NFL is currently facing a lawsuit over its overuse of the painkiller Toradol. Cannabis has been touted by NFL players as being a better alternative to painkillers. When asked in the previously cited ESPN survey which was better for recovery or pain control, Toradol or cannabis, 41% chose cannabis versus 32% that chose painkillers (27% chose neither).
If someone plays a contact sport long enough, they are going to get injured. In some of those cases, the injury will be severe enough that the athlete will need to come up with a pain management strategy. Sadly, many of them will be pushed towards opioids. A growing body of evidence is showing that not only is cannabis a safer, effective alternative to opioids, but that people can actually be weaned off of opioids by using medical cannabis.
A recent study looked at records of hospital discharges during 1997–2014, and found a 13% lower rate of opioid use in states that had legalized medical cannabis. The same study also found a 23% lower rate of opioid-related hospitalizations. It’s because of studies like these that the Uncle Cliffy team promotes cannabis over painkillers. Painkillers are harmful and can even cause death. Cannabis literally has the power to save lives. It’s beyond time that professional sports leagues recognized the facts and quit pushing players towards harmful substances instead of allowing them to make the safer choice.
Cannabis consumption of any kind is prohibited in most professional sports, including the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB). Cannabis prohibition is a failed policy whether it’s in professional sports or society, and is very harmful to those that have to deal with prohibition’s unfair consequences.
Many upstanding professional athletes have had their careers hindered, or even derailed, because of cannabis prohibition. Athletes should be measure by their physical skills and moral character, and not by the level of cannabinoids in their system. Below are ten reasons why professional sports leagues should get with the times and end cannabis prohibition.
1. Because cannabis is safer than substances that leagues currently embraces
Alcohol and opioid painkillers are used widely by professional athletes, and embraced by professional sports leagues. Cannabis has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. Opioid addiction is a major problem in professional sports leagues, due in large part to how often painkillers are pushed on players. As many as 40 people die every day in America from opioid based painkillers. Cannabis has never killed anyone.
2. Because cannabis helps suffering players
Athletes get hurt. If you play sports long enough, you will incur injuries either from contact with another player or surface, or from wear and tear. There’s simply no way around it. Cannabis has been found to be a proven medicine that can effectively treat all types of ailments that athletes suffer from, including and especially chronic pain. Cannabis is one of the most studied substances in America, with over 23,000+ medical papers published about the topic to date. Cannabis is medicine. That’s an undeniable fact.
3. Because consumption will not go away, it’s just pushed into the shadows
Cannabis has been prohibited in professional sports for many years now, yet consumption rates are still significantly high (no pun intended). That’s not a bad thing. Cannabis consumption is going to occur regardless of if it’s prohibited or not, the only difference is that players will be doing it in secret under prohibition, and likely with little to no thought as to what type of cannabis or consumption method is best for their situation. Legalization pulls that consumption out of the shadows, which is an undeniably better approach for players’ health.
4. Because the punishment doesn’t fit ‘the crime’
There are numerous professional athletes, Cliff Robinson included, that have been penalized for making the safer choice to consume cannabis instead of alcohol or pharmaceutical painkillers. These athletes were prevented from competing in a sport that they had dedicated their lives to, all because they chose to consume a plant that has been found to be 114 times safer than alcohol. If the only violation is that an athlete was caught possessing and/or consuming cannabis, a substance that is safer than alcohol and painkillers, how is it justified that the athlete should be prevented from competing? If the athlete was not found to be harming another human in any way, how is justified to penalize them in so harsh a manner as to keep them from coming to work and/or fining them large sums of money?
5. Because it will help combat the opioid epidemic in pro sports
644 NFL players were surveyed in 2010 about opioid use. Per the survey, ‘Over half (52%) used opioids during their NFL career with 71% reporting misuse. Additionally, 15% of NFL misusers currently misused vs. 5% among players who used just as prescribed during their NFL career. Prevalence of current opioid use was 7%–3 times the rate of the general population.’ That is a problem that is found throughout professional sports, and the problem seems to grow with every passing year. Patients using medical cannabis to control chronic pain reported a 64% reduction in opioid use, per a University of Michigan study. If professional sports leagues are serious about their desire to reduce opioid abuse among players, which we here at Uncle Cliffy Sports Cannabis sincerely hope is the case, removing cannabis as a banned substance would significantly help achieve the goal.
6. Because cannabis prohibition is a racist, failed policy
Cannabis prohibition disproportionately affects minorities. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) African Americans are almost four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people, even though consumption rates are roughly the same for both races. In St. Louis specifically, one study found that African Americans were arrested 18 times more often than white people for cannabis. This is tremendously important because many sports leagues treat a legal cannabis issue such as an arrest as grounds for league sanctions. By enforcing cannabis prohibition in that manner, professional sports leagues are perpetuating the systematic racism that is so ingrained in America’s criminal justice system. If leagues truly embraced diversity and equality, they would get on the right side of history and remove cannabis as a banned substance.
7. Because fans support cannabis reform
Gallup has been asking Americans if they support cannabis legalization since 1969. Back then, only 12% of Americans that participated in the survey supported cannabis legalization. That number has since steadily surged to an all-time high of 60% this year. Support is even greater for the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Professional sports leagues need to recognize that reforming cannabis policies in their leagues is not a risky move. After all, polling consistently has shown that most Americans would welcome such a move.
8. Because so many teams are located in states/districts that are legal
There are many NFL, NBA, and MLB teams located in states (and D.C.) that have voted to legalize cannabis for adult use. Those teams are: Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, San Diego Padres, Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Mariners, Denver Nuggets, Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, Washington Wizards. This of course doesn’t even include states that have legalized medical cannabis, nor does it include other professional sports leagues who have teams or hold competitions in legal states.
9. Because doctors and law enforcement support it
Doctors for Cannabis Regulation is making a big push for cannabis reform in sports. The doctors that help lead the organization are established and very much respected in the medical community. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is an organization comprised of current and retired members of law enforcement who have witnessed first hand the failures of cannabis prohibition, and therefore fight to end cannabis prohibition wherever it may exist. Common reasons that cannabis opponents offer up as to why they oppose cannabis reform (including in sports) is because it’s bad for peoples’ health and it’s illegal. It’s important for sports leagues to know that doctors and cops are among those leading the charge to reform cannabis laws in America, which includes professional sports leagues.
10. The NHL has done it, and the sky is still intact
The National Hockey League (NHL) does not include cannabis on its list of banned substances. This sensible approach to cannabis policy is something that other professional sports leagues should adopt, and is definitive proof that removing cannabis as a banned substance does not result in the downfall of a sport or its players.
image via ThirdMonk.net