In this Wednesday, June 1, 2016, photo, Treyous Jarrells sits in his grow room filled with about 20 marijuana plants in his basement apartment in Fort Collins, Colo. Jarrells, a former college running back, says that it is time for sports to allow the use of marijuana as a pain reliever. (Chelsae Ketchum, The Coloradoan via AP)

‘I am not ashamed of what I did’: Marijuana led university running back to quit football

A look at the thorny subject of marijuana use among college athletes, how NCAA tests students & the chronic opioid crisis

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — If college athletes want to smoke marijuana, the NCAA probably won’t catch them.

Treyous Jarrells is proof.

The running back signed with CSU because of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes, and he was high in all but one game he played in across two seasons.

Jarrells, 23, left the Colorado State University football team early in the 2015 season due to concerns he’d fail a drug test and risk losing his financial aid.

Medical marijuana is legal in 25 states, and Jarrells has one of 102,620 medical licenses to legally grow the drug in Colorado.

But Jarrells’ use of marijuana, which he smokes to relieve chronic pain caused by playing football for 16 years, conflicts with NCAA and CSU’s list of banned substances. It’s a thorny issue that’s further complicated by the fact that the rampant use of university-administered opiates can have severe side effects. Jarrells says cannabinoids treat his pain in a safer way, reported the Coloradoan.

“I practiced under the influence. I played games under the influence. This is my medicine,” Jarrells said. “I’ve seen players at CSU pop five, 10 ibuprofens before practice. Daily. You think that’s good? Over the course of two, three years, that’s eating your liver away.”

“I am not ashamed of what I did.”

Chronic pain

Jarrells’ house looks no different than the others on his Northern Colorado block.

There’s a long front porch with a lush, green lawn and detailed landscaping.

He’s waiting outside when we pull up, making a business call on the sidewalk. As we get out of the car, he hangs up, smiles and says, “You’re going to love this.”

He leads us through the front door and downstairs to his basement apartment. His laundry is zipped in temporary closets to protect his clothes from the smell, and the carpet — littered with stems — doesn’t look like it’s ever been vacuumed.

We walk past his queen-size bed where a half-hidden .45 caliber pistol sits on the nightstand, kept nearby as growhouses have been targets for theft, which is also the reason the Coloradoan decided not to publish the location of Jarrells’ residence.

He continues the tour, and we enter an unfinished room with ventilation tubing, gardening supplies and barely recognizable hemp plants in tiny planters scattered across the floor.

“Those are the clones,” he says. “Just wait.”

Before unzipping the curtain into the final room, he straps on a pair of white painter’s overalls, throws on his yellow, marijuana-themed shades and reveals his most prized possessions. Rows of Pineapple Express and Blue Haze cannabis stretch from wall to wall, in a 10-by-10 grow room set at 83 degrees. The tallest, which Jarrells named K. Michelle (because “she’s tall and thick”), towers at more than 6 feet.

This is where Jarrells has been the past year. Until now, he didn’t want anyone to know.

His basement serves as a daily reminder of the life he could have lived.

His five pairs of green-and-white cleats dangle by the laces from the ceiling. The two CSU helmets, with receiving gloves on the crowns, rest in opposing corners of the room. His walls are checkered by letters from Utah State, Georgia State and Marshall, reminders of his options coming out of junior college, and newspaper clippings that paint a picture of the athlete he once was.

It also reminds him why he left football. He was good enough to earn a Division I scholarship to CSU, where he averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns as a sophomore and where as a junior he could have been the starting running back.

He entered his first season at CSU in 2014 with lingering ailments, though he never showed it. Playing running back for 16 years, dating back to Pop Warner football in Florida, took a toll on Jarrells’ knees. A 2015 surgery to repair a torn meniscus helped, but the pain never went away. His body ached.

Concerns about addiction to narcotic prescription painkillers and the long-term side effects of over-the-counter remedies such as acetaminophen led Jarrells to self-medicate. He’d done so since high school.

It was a calculated risk to use marijuana, but Jarrells said that had he not, he wouldn’t have been able to endure the pain football caused.

CSU student-athletes sign a university drug policy consenting to being tested at any time for any number of reasons, including position on a team, year in school, exceptional performance, reasonable suspicion and random selection.

A first positive test requires the athlete to undergo counseling. The second is a mandatory suspension for 15 percent of the season (two games in football). A third positive test results in dismissal from the team.

Jarrells appeared in 10 games as a sophomore in 2014 and one as a junior before leaving the Rams. Not once was he tested, he said, despite being under the influence in 10 of the 11 games in which he played.

HIPAA legislation prevents CSU from confirming if Jarrells was ever tested.

At Friday team dinners, players were given Rice Krispies treats; Jarrells would swap the team-issued dessert for a homemade version and chow down at his locker on Saturdays. He was ingesting marijuana in plain sight before games without raising suspicion from coaches and teammates.

Jarrells knew his luck would eventually run out. And yet he refused to stop.

With less than two semesters until he graduated college — an accomplishment few in his neighborhood back home in Sanford, Florida, ever achieved — he didn’t want to leave his financial aid to chance. So he lied.

He walked into then- first-year coach Mike Bobo’s office following last year’s Rocky Mountain Showdown — a game in which he was benched despite running for 121 yards and a touchdown against the University of Colorado a year before — and told him their relationship wasn’t working. Jarrells came to CSU because of former coach Jim McElwain, and Bobo wasn’t what he signed up for.

A coaching change coupled with his godfather’s murder over the summer was taking its toll on classwork, Jarrells said, and he needed to step back from the game. Jarrells said Bobo understood, and let him leave the team while remaining on scholarship through the end of the academic year.

Jarrells admitted he stretched the truth, but he didn’t want to be remembered as a stereotype — an athlete who burned out of football because of marijuana — and he felt if Bobo knew what was really happening, there was no chance he’d allow him to stay on scholarship.

Jarrells says his decision to leave the team is the reason he was able to graduate.

“I’ve seen people before me, my brothers, who got kicked out of school for marijuana. I’ve seen people from CSU who got kicked out recently for marijuana. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘I can’t do it any more with the pain. I can’t take it. I have to get my body right.’ I knew if I stepped back from the game, they wouldn’t drug test me, but I could still get my degree.”

Testing and addiction

Although marijuana is on the NCAA’s list of banned substances, the only time athletes are tested for THC, the primary psychoanalytic ingredient in marijuana, is at championship events. The random drug tests the NCAA administers throughout the year are only for performance-enhancing substances, said Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer.

“Every institution oversees marijuana as it sees fit,” Hainline said. “Some schools test regularly for marijuana, and others don’t. Just as some schools test for alcohol, and others don’t.”

Colorado State University tests its nearly 400 student-athletes for marijuana. It does not test for alcohol.

The program is designed to test every athlete an average of once a year, head trainer Terry DeZeeuw said. The school tests for all substances banned by the NCAA.

The National Center for Drug Free Sport, which handles testing for the NCAA and more than 300 of its member institutions, performed 447 tests for CSU during the 2015-16 academic year and 1,903 since 2010-11.

Twenty CSU student-athletes tested positive for THC last year. The 4.5 percent rate of unique positive tests was significantly higher than the average over the previous five years (3.2 percent) but below the national average for college athletes of 6 percent, said Gene Willis, a spokesman for Drug Free Sport.

The low rate of positive tests is “a strong indicator that our (testing) program is having a positive effect,” CSU athletic director Joe Parker said in an email.

By comparison, CU has conducted 111 tests since 2011-12, with 19 percent of athletes testing positive for THC. CU does not perform random drug tests, electing to only take urine samples when reasonable suspicion is involved or as required by the NCAA. The university did not test for street drugs, such as marijuana, in 2010-11.

Parker and DeZeeuw declined to be interviewed in person for this story, and a CSU spokesman said Bobo would not comment because coaches are not involved in decisions about testing, despite a drug policy stating the contrary.

A study conducted by the NCAA and released in July 2014 found that 22 percent of student-athletes at its 1,200-plus member schools had used marijuana in 2013, down 1 percent from a previous study four years earlier. Marijuana use by Division I athletes was at 16 percent in 2013, also down 1 percent from 2009.

There’s no way to know how many of those athletes are using the drug to treat chronic pain.

Despite its legalization for medical use in 25 States as well as the District of Columbia, Hainline said there is no science backing the use of marijuana for pain management.

“There are anecdotes of some people who say marijuana helps my pain, and there’s other anecdotes of people who say I tried marijuana for pain and ended up being hospitalized for a psychiatric, psychotic breakdown,” Hainline said.

The only options available to NCAA athletes are over-the-counter medications with known long-term side effects including gastrointestinal bleeding and liver failure, or opioids such as hydrocodone (or Vicodin), which can lead to organ failure in addition to being addictive.

Vicodin is labeled as a Schedule II narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency; marijuana is a Schedule I, which is defined by the DEA as having the highest potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical use.

The primary pain medication CSU gave student-athletes from 2013-16 was Vicodin (48 tablets), per records obtained by the Coloradoan. However, DeZeeuw said the majority of prescription medications for athletic injuries are filled at a pharmacy in the same manner as the general public and would not be part of the school’s logs.

It ordered a combined 19,000 over-the-counter ibuprofen, acetaminophen and Naproxen tablets during the same window. With approximately 400 student-athletes practicing or playing on an NCAA-sanctioned CSU team per year, that breaks down to an average of 1.3 tablets per athlete per month.

CU distributed 93 Vicodin tablets and 2,529 nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that required prescriptions from 2013-16. It ordered 37,000 of the same over-the-counter pain relievers as CSU during that time. CU has an average of 350 student-athletes per year.

DeZeeuw said all prescription and nonprescription medications for CSU athletes are administered under the advice and consent of the prescribing physician. But even as CSU tries to limit the exposure of opioids to its athletes, addiction can happen.

As former CSU linebacker Myke Sisson can attest.

In an early-season game against the University of Northern Colorado in 2011, Sisson fractured his right ankle in the second quarter during punt coverage. He underwent surgery to repair it and was prescribed hydrocodone and Percocet.

“When I first got the hydrocodone, they told me to take one every few hours or as needed. Then one stopped working, so I started taking two every few hours. Then that wasn’t enough so I bumped it up to three,” Sisson said. “I started noticing I was addicted. I thought, ‘I have to stop this this. I have to just deal with the pain and hope it will go away.'”

Concerned about the internal damage he was doing to his body by taking six or more hydrocodone pills a day, Sisson stopped cold turkey. His new drug of choice?

“I won’t lie, I have tried medicinal marijuana to help with pain or to cope with something that is going on with football,” Sisson said. “The difference was, with (opioids) I was actually getting addicted to and the other would relax my body and not have to worry about pain.

“It was better than the alternative, going out and drinking after a game or popping pills.”

Sisson said he hopes the NCAA will consider marijuana as an approved pain-management treatment for student-athletes, especially given the organization’s willingness to allow doctors to “prescribe hydrocodone and Percocet to kids on a daily basis.”

As the rules are written now, Hainline said, an athlete in a state such as Colorado where medical (and recreational) marijuana is legal would not be able to get a doctor’s note to exempt them from NCAA testing. Hainline said there’s insufficient science to prove its effectiveness as a pain reliever.

However, Hainline has been asked by the International Olympic Committee to co-chair a panel with other experts around the world to discuss pain management in elite athletes in November. There has never been a consensus paper written on the subject, he said. One of the subtopics the panel will review is the use of marijuana.

The panel’s findings will be used as a springboard for the NCAA to develop future plans for how to treat pain in athletes.

Taking a stand

Jarrells will never make millions playing football like he dreamed as a child. He believes that if he had wanted to play out his senior season this fall, he’d have punched his ticket to the NFL. Maybe that’s true.

He still plans on becoming a millionaire. He’s bottling and selling his own “million-dollar spray” to help cannabis and other plants flourish.

Regardless of if those financial goals are reached, he’s happy. Happy waking up at 5 a.m. to tend to his plants and smoke with them in the afternoon. He’s happy even though he rarely leaves the house. He’s happy with a life that, from the outside, appears mundane.

And Jarrells understands how he looks. He looks like the athlete who dropped out of football to smoke marijuana. His May arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs not helping that perception.

He looks like a pothead.

“These two semesters I wasn’t able to play ball, I was able to make connections for my career,” Jarrells said. “If I would have played ball, I wouldn’t have had those opportunities because I wouldn’t have been in the places to make those connections. Right now, a lot of players who didn’t get into the league, they’re lost right now because they didn’t make connections. . That’s the thing, you’re not a student, you’re an athlete.

“I tell you right now that I thank God that I didn’t play football, that I chose to step away. I was able to heal my body, get my degree and actually use my degree.”

Jarrells knows he’ll be judged. He’s concerned he’ll alienate family and that CSU will no longer recognize him as one of its own. But like playing under the influence, coming clean, too, is a calculated risk. And change has to start somewhere.

He survived the NCAA’s ongoing 30-year ban of marijuana and knows many athletes in his situation won’t be as fortunate. They’ll get caught, suspended or lose their scholarships. Even though ingesting marijuana is a legal alternative to painkillers.


Via AP Member Exchange. Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan