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For season after season, the NFL powers-that-be and cannabis have never exactly been friends. The NFL used to suspend players if they tested positive multiple times for cannabis; that rule was just stricken from the books last year with the Players Association’s latest collective bargaining agreement. From the standpoint of the players themselves, many feel that cannabis as a pain treatment is highly preferable to prescription drugs.

So now the NFL seems to be listening. They want to know more about cannabis and pain; especially whether it can be a superior alternative to opioids that are often abused, present risks, and carry a stigma.

According to the league’s official announcement, there are three specific lines of inquiry that they wish to fund through research studies:

  • The effects of cannabinoids on pain in elite football players (post-surgical and/or in daily pain management).
  • The effects of non-pharmacologic treatments on pain in elite football players (post-surgical and/or in daily pain management).
  • The effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance (e.g. psychomotor, reaction time, respiratory function) in elite football players.

$1 million is being provided to fund up to five research studies, a project that will be managed by both the NFL and the NFLPA through their joint Pain Management Committee (PMC).

Last year, the PMC conducted two informational forums on CBD to learn about the state of cannabidiol science and manufacturing in North America. Earlier this year, they issued a nationwide information request to identify researchers currently studying pain issues.

The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills, has expressed that he considers this more a societal issue than a simple sports issue; he believes the misuse of opioids makes it vital that more research be done into better pain treatments. A study by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, surveying 644 retired NFL players, found that over half had used opioids in order to stay on the field longer and compete through pain; of those, 71% met the criteria for opioid misuse.

Some NFL players who have self-medicated themselves with cannabis report that it helped make their pain more bearable without slowing them down, unlike the lethargic effect that came with prescription pills. Now there may be scientific findings to back up their anecdotal experiences. The NFL expect to receive research proposals by July 31st, and to award its research grants in December.