The NFL is throwing $1 million into cannabinoid research

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The NFL’s Joint Pain Management Committee awarded a $1 million research grant to two medical teams who will study how cannabinoids impact pain management and “neuroprotection from concussion” for players.

The committee of NFL and NFL Players Association leaders selected two out of 106 prospective medical teams to quarterback the seven-figure study. The University of California San Diego and University of Regina in Canada will host the league’s weed research for the next three years. And researchers will have a high burden of proof, according to NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills.

”Anytime we want to introduce a new therapy, we have to understand how that decision might impact their well-being and their performance,” Dr. Sills told the Associated Press on the leagues’ long distance approach to the research.

“This type of work is going to be of interest to athletes in many different sports and at all levels. We know that all sports have some degree of injury and pain that are associated with those injuries. And so I think this will be very generalizable.” – NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills

Dr. Sills says the league knows that “these products are already out there and in many cases, they’re being widely used and widely marketed. So this research will help inform people as to which strategies may be beneficial and then those that may not be. And so I see this as being hugely impactful for the NFL, for all of the elite sport, but also sport at all level across society.”

Ricky Williams left a career in the NFL behind at his athletic peak because of the league’s outdated cannabis policy. The Heisman Trophy winner is now leading his own legal cannabis brand, Highsman, which will normalize use of the plant for both fans and athletes. (Courtesy of Real Wellness)

Cannabis remains banned in the NFL, and many players have been harshly punished and stigmatized by the league for consuming weed. The most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA eliminated suspensions, stopped testing during the off-season, and increased the threshold for a positive test by 400%.

Dr. Sills is hopeful that this study will blaze a trail for more research on how cannanbis can help athletes of all levels. He said, “there’s been a lot of interest in this area, but we did not feel like there was a lot of great solid research on the benefits of marijuana, CBD and treating acute and chronic pain. So, that’s why we wanted to try to contribute to the body of science in this area.”

Leading cannabis researcher Dr. Kevin Hill, the co-chair of the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee, explained one obstacle that’s held things up to this point. “One reason is the scheduling of cannabis makes it harder to do this research,” Dr. Hill said. “But the main reason is that stakeholders really aren’t interested in advancing the science.”

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