A push for cannabidiol research has gained steam in recent months, with current and former NFL players backing two studies on CBD’s efficacy in alleviating football-related pain without getting them high. But another study, led by California-based cannabis extract producer Constance Therapeutics and the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, aims to examine whether whole-plant cannabis is more effective than isolated compounds in treating players’ pain.
Led by Dutch researcher Dr. Arno Hazekamp, the study will include approximately 30 former NFL players in California, where marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes and soon could be legal for recreational use, as well. The players will be administered marijuana, via vapor or tincture, and monitored to determine the drug’s effectiveness in alleviating their pain and symptoms from concussions. The study, funded by donors and Constance Therapeutics, is expected to start later this summer with no set end date.
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Chris Kluwe, a former punter who played nine years in the NFL, is among those who have volunteered to participate. Kluwe used marijuana during his career and still uses it in retirement to ease lingering pain from four knee surgeries and years of wear and tear. The study, he says, is key to not only promoting awareness of alternative, and possibly safer, pain relievers than the narcotics players often receive from teams, but to also prompt the NFL and players association to revise the substance-abuse policy.
“The way the NFL has it now is really not a bad system because what it does is it touches guys who really do have a problem and probably should get some sort of counseling,” Kluwe said. “What I’d like to see them do is be much more lenient in terms of the penalties that are assessed on guys. So instead of having someone like Josh Gordon — who gets suspended for an entire year — go, ‘OK, we’re going make resources available to you,’ but also look at it like maybe this guy really does need this to help him play this game. ‘How can we make it so that he’s still active and functional in his everyday life and able to play in the NFL as well?’”
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The study will be GCC’s first, but it’s one of a growing number of cannabis studies geared toward helping NFL players and changing the league’s policies.
“When the Bright Lights Fade,” an initiative that started with a group of former Broncos players, Colorado’s CW Hemp and its partnering nonprofit, Realm of Caring, raised nearly $100,000 to fund two studies on former players’ CBD use and non use, and to track current players’ in-season injury treatment plans.
While the intents of the CBD and cannabis studies are similar, the distinction is significant. Unlike marijuana, CBD from hemp has only traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gets users high. The NFL’s substance-abuse policy penalizes players who test positive for more than 35 nanograms per milliliter of urine of THC. It’s believed that players could not consume enough CBD to test hot, but even minimal amounts of THC pose a risk. Whole-plant cannabis, however, poses a much greater risk because of the higher THC content. Although medical marijuana is legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia, it is still federally illegal.
“Until marijuana is legal on the federal level, then the NFL just isn’t going to touch it because then you run into trafficking issues,” Kluwe said. “I can understand why the NFL isn’t really looking to get involved in this right now in terms of on an institutional level, but I think that they should be looking to set pieces in place so once it does become legal, they’re ready to move to add it to their toolkit, just like anything else in the training room.”