Earlier this year, the NFL announced plans to award $1 million in grants to cannabis researchers studying pain management.
It’s a big departure from the league’s previous stance on cannabis. Players and coaches have advocated for CBD and medical cannabis for years, but NFL brass was slow to respond. Recently, however, attitudes have begun to shift.
In 2020, a joint commission between the NFL and its players’ union determined that “CBD is a promising compound, but the level of its use in the United States outpaces the level of research at this point… Of course, cannabis remains a banned substance under the NFL Policy for Substances of Abuse.”
Ultimately, the committee concluded that the problems associated with cannabis outweighed the potential benefits.
The league faced pushback from former and current players, however. The same year the commission cannabis was too risky, retired New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski partnered with a CBD company. “It [CBD] would have been huge,” Gronkowski told Slate magazine. “I would have used it for my sore muscles, shots to the body, areas that are not feeling so good but you still gotta go play.”
Gronkowski is far from the only retired player who has turned to CBD or cannabis. Players’ intense interest in cannabis is why the NFL has softened its stance. The same committee addressed the question again in June 2021, and this time the NFL leaders and players’ union representatives decided to fund CBD and cannabis research projects.
The studies will specifically focus on three areas of pain management:
- “the effects of cannabinoids on pain in elite football players
- the effects of non-pharmacologic treatments on pain in elite football players
- the effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in elite football players.”
Although CBD is still banned, currently, no NFL player will be suspended for failing a drug test. It doesn’t matter if they tested positive for cannabis or cocaine. Instead of suspension, players will face large fines for each infraction.
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