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.
The National Football League (NFL) considers cannabis to be a banned substance. The fact that the NFL prohibits cannabis use, but allows the use of various other substances that are much more harmful, is hypocritical to say the least. The NFL needs to have more compassion for its players. With NFL players suffering from chronic pain, and often times brain injuries, it’s time that the NFL got on the right side of history.
As it stands right now, there are 25 states that allow medical cannabis use, and four states that have legalized adult-use cannabis laws. Washington D.C. has approved both medical and adult-use cannabis laws. The upcoming election could very well see more states added to the list. So why doesn’t the NFL recognize that cannabis is medicine, and a safer alternative to alcohol, and permit its use? How do players feel about the NFL’s ban on cannabis, and cannabis in society?
ESPN recently conducted a survey asking NFL players questions about cannabis. Below are some of the questions along with the results. As you can see, there is overwhelming support for cannabis reform among current NFL players. The ESPN survey involved 226 players, including players from both the AFC and NFC:
Should medical marijuana be legal in all states?
Yes 71 percent
No 29 percent
Is it hard to beat the NFL’s testing system for recreational drugs?
Yes 33 percent
No 67 percent
Have you ever used marijuana to help with concussion symptoms?
Yes 17 percent
No 83 percent
Have you ever had a teammate who you think became an addict because of NFL painkiller abuse?
Yes 42 percent
No 58 percent
What would you rather use if both were allowed by the NFL: Toradol** or marijuana?
Toradol 57 percent
Marijuana 43 percent
Do you worry about the long-term effects of painkillers?
Yes 59 percent
No 41 percent
If marijuana were an allowed substance, would fewer players take painkillers?
Yes 61 percent
No 39 percent
Which is better for recovery and pain control: marijuana or painkillers?
Marijuana 41 percent
Painkillers 32 percent
Neither 27 percent