The NFL Finally Wants To Team Up With The Players' Union To Study Weed

For the first time ever, the NFL is making steps towards changing the league's cannabis rules.

In football, no pain means no gain. But for the players participating in one of the most violent sports around, that pain affects them long after retirement. And when it comes to avoiding painkillers, players have very few options.

After years of a back-and-forth debate between the NFL Players Association and the NFL about the legitimacy of cannabis as a pain management tool, the NFL has finally come around, deciding the league wants to work in tandem with the union to research the subject.

Over the years, little has changed in the battle between players who want to use cannabis and a league that won’t allow it. In 2014, the two came to an agreement to modify the rules slightly by relaxing the threshold that constitutes a positive marijuana test for players. Players are usually tested once a year during their off season and face suspension if they test positive multiple times. Despite this, word of mouth from players themselves state that marijuana use definitely exists—albeit low-key. 

The NFL has stated a lack of scientific research as one of the main reasons for putting off any marijuana policy changes. While some research does position cannabis as an effective way to manage pain and avoid opioids, the NFL is particularly interested in researching weed's effect on CTE, a traumatic brain injury NFL players are susceptible to that could lead to depression and catatonia. 

Still, the timing is off. According to The Cannabist, the NFL would prefer to discuss its cannabis use policies during the next collective bargaining agreement, which isn’t until 2020. 

Players both current and retired have insisted that cannabis would be beneficial for pain management as well as for decreasing or eradicating the use of opioids for pain, which, like much of the country, has become an issue among NFL players.

Marijuana advocacy group Athletes For Care, a nonprofit made up of NFL, NHL, and NBA athletes, has been working to change marijuana policies to favor more holistic approaches for athletes.

“They just destroyed my life,” UFC fighter Bas Rutten, and member of Athletes For Care, told The Bleacher Report of the eight OxyContin he took daily to manage pain. “I almost fell asleep behind the wheel. My blood pressure was up, I was sweating at night…finally, I said, ‘I gotta stop this stuff.’”

The NFLPA has yet to respond to the NFL’s request to work together, but the union has already been researching the subject separately and has expressed interest in further changing the league's existing recreational marijuana rules.

Only time will tell if the two will work together and amend the existing rules, but the NFL extending an invite to team up is certainly a step in a good direction.