The National Football League policy on marijuana use hasn’t changed even as more and more players and former players call for the NFL to sanction its use instead the opiates and painkillers they are currently prescribed.
The NFL allows for no use of cannabis, even in states where medical or recreational cannabis is legal for adults to purchase. It clings to a old policy that allows for suspensions and fines for positive marijuana test results, even as the league’s doctors continue to prescribe pharmaceuticals for pain and other football-related problems.
This is despite the findings of a new survey of 150 current and former NFL players done by Budtrader.com, an online medical marketplace. More than 90 percent of participants in the anonymous survey admitted to taking the opiate-based painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine, hydromorphone or propoxyphene for pain, many of them for reasons other than what it was prescribed for, whether anxiety, stress, depression, sleep or just for fun.
Brad McLaughlin, CEO of BudTrader, said in an interview that the company doesn’t normally do surveys but decided to undertake this one because there are current and former NFL players who are investors of BudTrader as well as members of its advisory board. They also had the support of former NFL player and Super Bowl champion, Marvin Washington, who says, “If there's one sport that should legalize medical cannabis, its professional football.”
The survey was designed by a medical doctor who specializes in pain management, a medical doctor who specializes in medical marijuana, a psychologist and a drug counselor. The only requirement was the person had to be a current or former NFL player with at least 2 seasons in the league. “We also worked with athletesforcare.org, a network of former professional athletes that advocate for medical marijuana use in professional sports,” McLaughlin says.
Nearly every player demanded complete anonymity when taking the survey for fear of retaliation from the league. But they still managed to get 150 players or ex-players to participate. Though they didn’t keep those stats, McLaughlin says that it was a good sampling, with probably a 60-40 split between former and current players and an age range from the mid-20s to the early 50s.
“We knew it’s something players wish they had. We know addiction is a problem in the league,” he says. “But we didn’t know what kinds of results we would get.”
Among those results are that 68 percent say they used marijuana during their career, and almost 80 percent said they used alcohol as well. Sixty-four percent were concerned that their prescriptions might lead to addiction to pain medications, more than 60 percent got it from sources other than doctor prescriptions, and more than 70 percent received the pharmaceuticals through injection.
One interesting line of questioning concerned drug use among other teammates and the coaching staff. Two-thirds of respondents said they suspected that another player or coach had an alcohol or drug problem. “An interesting one to me is that the numbers on teammates or coaching staff seemed like a high rate,” McLaughlin says. “But most coaches are former players, and it suggests that whatever bad habits they had they brought with them.”
There was almost universal agreement (87 percent) that if cannabis were legal, they would use it to treat their pain, and 86 percent said they would use it to treat stress, insomnia and anxiety if they could.
And will the NFL ever actually respond to what are now basically pleas from players to stop the madness? Apparently, they’re not holding their breath. More than 70 percent of survey respondents said they didn’t feel the NFL was concerned with safety.