A First In History: NFL Offers To Work With Union To Study Pain Management
For the first time in history, the NFL has loosened up on its anti-cannabis stance. The NFL offered to work with the NFL Players Association to study the potential of cannabis as an alternative pain management tool for its players, as reported by the Washington Times.
Currently, cannabis is completely banned within the NFL, despite numerous cases of players admitting to its use particularly for pain relief. So far, this is the clearest sign that the NFL may be open to cooperate with the union for cannabis use. The NFLPA is doing its own assessments, and those who are familiar with the situation have said that they have yet to respond to the offer of the NFL to work together on cannabis research.
“We look forward to working with the Players Association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players,” states Joe Lockhard, executive vice president of communications for the NFL. The union previously said that it is studying cannabis as a potential solution for pain management on its own. They are also interested in changing the current rules banning cannabis use from players.
NFLPA’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, disclosed to the Washington Post in January that the union was working on a proposal to the league that would have “less punitive” consequences to recreational cannabis use by players. “I do think that issues of addressing it more in a treatment and less punitive measure is appropriate,” Smith says. “I think it’s important to look at whether there are addiction issues. And I think it’s important to not simply assume recreation is the reason it’s being used.”
The NFLPA formed an exclusive pain management committee with the intention of studying certain things, including the use of cannabis as an alternative to pain medicines. The committee is a subcommittee of the Mackey-White traumatic brain injury committee. “How do you make sure that you address any potential addiction issue? Because I’ve read the literature on both sides,” says Smith. “How do you deal with the fact that some people are using it purely recreationally and pivoting it to… people who are using it medicinally either as a pain eradicator or a stress-coping mechanism? So what we’ve decided to do is, to the best we can, look at it as either related but nonetheless separate issues. Do I expect in the near future we are going to be presenting something to our board on the first issue? Yes.”
NFL players are still being tested for cannabis use and face consequences and even possible suspension from the league if they are test positive on the drug tests. Back in 2014, both the league and the union agreed to adjust the drug policy specifically for cannabis. They loosened up the thresholds of the constituents of a positive test – before the revisions, 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood or urine counted as positive, but the new modifications state that 35 nanograms per milliliter is what counts as positive.
“We’ve had several conversations about this issue and several years ago we did take a less punitive approach to marijuana,” says Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, during an interview with Fox radio last January. “That will be one of the subjects in the collective bargaining process, which we’d like to get into sooner rather than later.”
However, the union still haven’t sent in their proposal since the discussions in January. According to sources, one reason is because they think the league may have a preference of postponing the issue and use it as leverage during negotiations for the upcoming collective bargaining agreement instead of tackling it as an exclusive issue. The current bargaining agreement is still running until 2020.
Cannabis use among athletes has long been a widely debated topic in the industry. Over the last few decades, NFL players have gotten used to treating pain with powerful painkillers. The reliance on drugs has even started an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. A study says that players use opioids four times more than the rest of the population, but cannabis advocates are promoting the use of the plant even for athletes because it’s a much safer and healthier alternative.