The NFL will spend up to $1 million funding up to five studies that will examine how to better help players ease their pain and find alternatives to opioids.
Among those potential alternatives: marijuana and other cannabis-derived products.
The league announced its call for research proposals Tuesday. The league and the NFL Players Association formed a joint pain management committee in 2019 to help find alternatives to opioids and give players and league medical staffs information on pain management.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, said there are a lot of great ideas and important research that need to be funded.
“This is really not an NFL issue or a sports issue,” Sills said. "This is a societal issue, which is how can we better understand and treat pain and what are the alternatives that may be out there for treatment in addition to opioids which have long been used.”
Some retired NFL players, including Nate Jackson and Kyle Turley, have spoken out about their use of marijuana during their time in the league and said it's a better way of managing pain than the drugs prescribed by team doctors. The league prohibits marijuana use by players.
Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president overseeing player health and safety, said the league’s policy on substance abuse is not changing, with Tuesday’s announcement focused only on proposals and research.
The pain management committee held two forums in 2020 to learn more about cannabidiol science and manufacturing and now wants more information on how cannabinoids not only affect pain but the performance of NFL players.
Dr. Kevin Hill is co-chairman of the joint pain management committee and wrote a book titled “Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World's Most Popular Weed." He said players have been asking about cannabis and cannabidiol CBD. Hill said they've tried to provide the best information on a controversial topic.
“Unfortunately, the level of interest right now far exceeds the level of evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis for pain,” Hill said.
Hill, also director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said there are flaws in each of the controlled trials despite some evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis for pain.
“That’s why we put out this request for proposals so that we can collectively with the PA, the players association, move towards finding better treatments for pain. Those treatments may include cannabis, and they may include CBD,” Hill said.
The NFL opened the application process Tuesday. The league wants initial proposals studying how cannabinoids can help players manage pain daily and after surgery, how cannabis or cannabinoids affect players' athletic performance, and how other non-pharmaceutical treatments can benefit players.
Proposals must be submitted by July 31 with the pain management committee paring down submissions for formal presentations. Those will presented in November with a final decision the week of Dec. 6.
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