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NFL seeks right answer for marijuana use


Marijuana is casting an ever-thickening haze across NFL locker rooms, and it's not simply because more players are using it.

As attitudes toward the drug soften, and science slowly teases out marijuana's possible benefits for concussions and other injuries, the NFL is reaching a critical point in navigating its tenuous relationship with what is recognized as the analgesic of choice for many of its players.

"It's not, let's go smoke a joint," retired NFL defensive lineman Marvin Washington said. "It's, what if you could take something that helps you heal faster from a concussion, that prevents your equilibrium from being off for two weeks and your eyesight for being off for four weeks?"

One challenge the NFL faces is how to bring marijuana into the game as a pain reliever without condoning its use as a recreational drug. And facing a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of former players complaining about the effects of prescription painkillers they say were pushed on them by team trainers and doctors, the NFL is looking for other ways to help players deal with the pain from a violent game.

A Gallup poll last year found 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. That's already happened in Colorado and Washington - the states that are home of last season's Super Bowl teams.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has said it does not need to catch out-of-competition marijuana users. And at least one high-profile coach, Pete Carroll of the champion Seahawks, publicly said he'd like to see the NFL study whether marijuana can help players.

There are no hard numbers on how many NFL players are using marijuana, but anecdotal evidence, including the arrest or league discipline of no fewer than a dozen players for pot over the past 18 months, suggests use is becoming more common.

Washington Redskins defensive back Ryan Clark didn't want to pinpoint the number of current NFL players who smoke pot but said, "I know a lot of guys who don't regularly smoke marijuana who would use it during the season."

Washington wouldn't put a specific number on it but said he, too, knew his share of players who weren't shy about lighting up when he was in the league, including one guy "who just hated the pain pills they were giving out at the time." Another longtime defensive lineman, Marcellus Wiley, estimates half the players in the average NFL locker room were using it by the time he shut down his career in 2006.

"They are leaning on it to cope with the pain," said Wiley, who played defensive line in the league for 10 seasons. "They are leaning on it to cope with the anxiety of the game."

The NFL is fighting lawsuits on two fronts - concussions and painkillers - both of which, some argue, could be positively influenced if marijuana were better tolerated by the league.

The science, however, is slow-moving and expensive and might not ever be conclusive, says behavioral psychologist Ryan Vandrey, who studies marijuana use at John Hopkins. Marijuana may work better for some people, while narcotics and other painkillers might be better for others.

"Different medicines work differently from person to person," Vandrey said. "There's pretty good science that shows marijuana does have pain relieving properties. Whether it's a better pain reliever than the other things available has never been evaluated."

Washington, who is part of the concussion lawsuit, is working with a bio-pharmaceutical and phyto-medical company called KannaLife Sciences that recently received licensing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a drug to treat concussions using derivatives from medical marijuana.

Co-founder Thoma Kikis, who has been working on cannibas-based solutions to concussions for a few years, said he approached the NFL about signing on to the research.

"They didn't want to meet, didn't want to take a position to create any kind of controversy," Kikis said. "I understand that. But ultimately, they're going to have to make a decision and look into different research."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has treaded gingerly around the subject. Before last season's Super Bowl he said the league would "follow the medicine" and not rule out allowing players to use marijuana for medical purposes. An NFL spokesman reiterated that this month, saying if medical advisers inform the league it should consider modifying the policy, it would explore possible changes.

A spokesman for the players union declined comment on marijuana, beyond saying the union is always looking for ways to improve the drug-testing policy. But earlier this year, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the marijuana policy is secondary when set against the failure to bring Human Growth Hormone testing into the game. Some believe relaxing the marijuana rules could be linked to a deal that would bring in HGH testing.

"I've heard that in conversations," said Wiley, a plaintiff in the painkiller lawsuit. "And I think it's despicable that you'd pit them against each other."

The NFL drug policy has come under even more scrutiny this summer, after the NFL handed down a season-long suspension of Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of the NFL substance-abuse policy. That suspension, especially when juxtaposed against the two-game ban Ray Rice received for domestic violence, has led some to say the league's priorities are out of whack.

In June, Harvard Medical School professor emeritus Lester Grinspoon, one of the forefathers of marijuana research, published an open letter to Goodell, urging him to drop urine testing for weed altogether and, more importantly, fund a crash research project for a marijuana-based drug that can alleviate the consequences of concussions.

"As much as I love to watch professional football, I'm beginning to feel like a Roman in the days when they would send Christians to the lions," Grinspoon said. "I don't want to be part of an audience that sees kids ruin their future with this game, and then the league doesn't give them any recourse to try to protect themselves."

The league does fund sports-health research at the NIH to the tune of a $30 million donation it made in 2012. But the science moves slowly no matter where it's conducted and, as Vandrey says, "the NFL is in business for playing football, not doing scientific research."

Meanwhile, marijuana becomes more and more acceptable across America every day. But even with the Super Bowl being dubbed "The Stoner Bowl" and the issue hanging heavily over the NFL's marquee event, the league has shown no signs of quick movement.

The league's threshold for a positive test remains 10 times lower than that of WADA, which changed its limit last year in a nod to the reality that the drug is not a performance enhancer.

The NFL's conundrum is figuring a graceful way to keep tabs on those who use marijuana recklessly - or recreationally - while giving others a legitimate form of pain relief.

"I'd like to see us advance the subject to where we're all mature and we get it," Wiley said, "and we let players make the decision for themselves."

Join the discussion

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Richard August 15 2014 at 12:23 PM

Slowly I am removing TV shows that promote same-sex couples, force upon us Salt and pepper couples (I am not against this except that it is being forced upon me) and now athletes are using a felony product and no one is doing anything about it. There are little if any medical uses for marijuana only to drug a person into some sort of la la land. and I will participate by watching: NO WAY! I have better things to do with my time.

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19 replies
Axel August 15 2014 at 2:02 PM

It's fitting for the National Felons League, don't you think? How about pilots, train conductors, nuclear plant control room operators; they too should be included or is that where you make the "exception" to your rule? What a joke! This country is in the toilet...

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6 replies
mgt0331 August 15 2014 at 11:38 AM

Just what we need. 300 lb stoned thugs. You know which ones I'm speaking of. Put the whole word on weed, maybe we may get along better. Bunch of stoned losers.

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7 replies
LoadHarvester August 15 2014 at 12:17 PM

"possible benefits for concussions".
We are truly living in a world turned upside down.

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7 replies
TB August 16 2014 at 12:56 AM

I guess this is not a surprise when liberals want to legalize pot and abortion at any stage. Just don't try to buy a soda larger than 32 ounces.

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3 replies
zzyxx August 15 2014 at 11:35 AM

yes it will change your fan base also

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2 replies
rivera8787 zzyxx August 15 2014 at 4:20 PM

zzyxx....there won't be anymore CHEERING fans...they'll be too stoned to even remember what teams are playing.....so will there bee a smoking (pot) and non-smoking (pot) section??????

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raidersetc zzyxx August 16 2014 at 10:49 AM

Interesting perspective ... so the NFL's fan base should eventually resemble Maury Povich's studio audience ?

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Pamela August 16 2014 at 8:16 AM

Marijuana used to be legal in America. During prohabition many folks grew a few plants for themselves. Big business and the government were losing money with that. Who was one of the biggest pro-liquor guys….Joe Kennedy (yes, John and Bobbys dad). They could sell their liquor to Canada but not here. He had lots of influencial friends in government. They got together and voted to allow liquor to be legal here once again…ONLY if marijuana was made illegal. Drunks can be surly and mean….not so with marijuana. I can grow a few plants all by myself…can’t make your own liquor legally can you. Folks can and do die from liquor addiction…not pot. But you see, it all goes back to ‘follow the money’ doesn’t it.

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2 replies
sportsscoop Pamela August 16 2014 at 2:13 PM

The bureaucrats in Washington are the only ones keeping it illegal at the federal level. The majority of Americans know the science. It will be fully legalized soon and then only the conservatives from the Nixon era will be left to flounder gasping their lies and ignoring the science until their very last breath. Good thing the majority know the facts though.

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tgarcia201 Pamela August 16 2014 at 4:39 PM


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adavis1527 August 16 2014 at 1:41 AM

Isn't this news peachy? If your a kid you can now collect your favorite drug addict sports cards. Yes friedd alter your metal function and think your mind is clearer beause your too stupified to know how stupid you are acting, And fathers and mothers now you can either tell you kid to grow up and be like bobblehead jones or you can give them an example of what a moron looks like. I bet getting concussions from boxing could really be helped by this MIND ALTERING DURG. Then when your brain is bouncing around in your skull you may not even know it is bad for your thinking machine. NO matter you are not using it anyway. How;s Colorado doing with its increeased DUI accidents. Oh but no matter if you kill someone because it is now legal to be wacked as long as you claim it's "ONLY for MEDICAL USE"??? It is? And what happened to the thing of decreased use when legalized? Now they are buying it in Colorado and shipping it to the rest of the states for profit. Yes friends they scammed ya

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1 reply
greatgatsby86 adavis1527 August 16 2014 at 1:59 AM

What durgs are you on? your thinking machine must be scrambled tell your kids that daddy can't spell when he's on his percocets.

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1 reply
debsully69 greatgatsby86 August 16 2014 at 3:14 PM

I agree, adavis must be on crack to think that way. Critical thinkers, like you, see this issue clearly. While people like him are in some kind of one sided haze.

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Gene August 16 2014 at 6:15 AM

The NFL is the melting pot for uneducated blacks and all around losers. Way to go Commish!

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Michael Dubacher August 15 2014 at 3:01 PM

whoa.....hey throw me a bomb.. man..
touch down......oops ran the wrong way.

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2 replies
joe Michael Dubacher August 16 2014 at 6:52 AM

Hey jug head you didnt catch the ball. Oh man I can go for a jug of cool aid am=nd some munchies. The players are dumb enough now come on. They are alway suspended for something or getting into some other trouble. Keep the drugs out.

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katdog841 Michael Dubacher August 16 2014 at 10:02 AM

Stoned football players moving in slow motion?? Please! So the ones who don't do this will have the football field to themselves. This would be the end of a wonderful sport. I can't believe they are even considering it...

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1 reply
sportsscoop katdog841 August 16 2014 at 12:19 PM

Did you miss the part in this article with the veterans saying at least half of their locker room was using it? This was back in 2006 too. Like did you miss the entire point of this article? That most already use it?

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