NFL Players Petition League To Look At Marijuana As Painkiller

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A group of retired football players and medical professionals are petitioning the NFL to consider marijuana as an alternative to prescription painkillers.

Despite the substance’s ban in professional sports and federal status as a Schedule 1 drug on par with heroin, a retired NFL player is lobbying the league to study the benefits of marijuana as a substitute for painkillers.

Kyle Turley, a retired lineman who spent nine years in the league, is advocating it for himself and on behalf of a number of athletes who want viable alternatives to powerful opioids. Turley found himself addicted to several drugs including Vicodin and Morphine after retiring and said the pills drove him close to suicide, reports NPR.

Turley said the prescription drugs had him spiraling deeper into depression until he transitioned off the pills and switched to marijuana for pain management. At one point in 2009, his wife found him trying to jump from a third story window.

“Suicidal and homicidal tendencies became part of my daily living,” Turley told Sports Illustrated in July. “I couldn’t be around a knife in the kitchen without having an urge to stab someone, including my wife and kids.”

Turley expressed frustration with the League policy towards painkillers and marijuana. While advocates understand the legal position the NFL faces, they are critical of how willing the NFL is to accept powerful prescription painkillers in place of less harmful alternatives. Turley works with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, which petitions the NFL concerning the benefits of medical marijuana.

The player’s union is currently forming a committee devoted to exploring pain management issues for current and retired athletes.

“Certainly given some of the medical research that’s out there, marijuana is going to be one of the substances that we take a look at,” George Atallah, an NFL Player’s Association executive told NPR.

The effort comes at a time when marijuana is more widely available across the country. Marijuana activists won major ballot victories on Election Day in states across the country. Medical marijuana legalization passed in Florida with 71 percent support and also secured passage in Arkansas and North Dakota. Voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine all approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Prescription painkillers are considered an epidemic in the U.S., with overdoses on the rise in states across the country. Use of prescription painkillers is now more widespread in the U.S. than tobacco. Nationally, 37.8 percent of adult Americans are using some kind of painkiller, while 31.1 percent of adults in the U.S. use tobacco products.

A recent study found that patients who were treated for chronic pain with both opioids and marijuana eventually pivot towards higher levels of weed consumption.

“They noted on average a two-thirds decrease in their opioid dose,” Dr. Daniel Clauw, a pain specialist and author of the study, told NPR. “They also noted that they just felt a lot better overall with respect to side-effect profile when their pain was being controlled largely with cannabinoids.”

Medical professionals and academics note that research into marijuana’s medical applications remains limited due to the federal government’s designation of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.

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