NFL Denies Player’s Request To Use Medical Marijuana

Mike James says he became addicted to opioids and wants to try a different treatment for pain.

NFL Teams Don't Care Anymore If Athletes Fail Marijuana Drug Testing
Photo by Flickr user Josh Hallett

Mike James, a free agent professional running back, hoped to use medical marijuana to ease his pain rather than prescription painkillers. But this week, the NFL gave him his answer: No.

James, who was drafted in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has also played for the Detroit Lions, applied for a marijuana therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) from the league this offseason. He was upfront about his medicine of choice and wanted to make sure he was compliant with league rules. But the NFL denied his request, which now puts James’ career in jeopardy.

“I am hopeful that I’ll be able to keep playing football,” James told NJ.com. “It is a game that I love very dearly. I know right now I’m doing something that makes some people uncomfortable, and that I’m going against the establishment to push for a change in the way they look at this medicine. I know there’s a greater purpose here for a lot of guys in this league who I consider family members.”

James’ first NFL injury occurred in his rookie season in 2013, when he broke his ankle. Like all NFL players, he began popping pills for “pain like I had never experienced in my life.” The painkillers were prescribed by doctors and James developed a dependence to the drugs.

According to James, his drug addiction became a problem for his family. His wife, Aubrey, led him to give medical marijuana a try as an alternative, but James — whose father had a history of drug-related offenses — balked at the idea. “I didn’t want to believe the benefits,” he told NJ.com. “But at that point, I was in so much pain and going through a lot mentally with the demands in the game, I tried it. It gave me instant relief.”

Despite his uncertain career options, James says he will continue to use cannabis as a pain treatment and will evangelize about the benefits. And he has support from the medical community.

“Consuming a vast amount of opioids is far more dangerous than cannabis,” said Dr. Sue Sisley, James’ physician and a top cannabis researcher. “One is lethal in overdose. One is not. One has an epidemic in overdose deaths. One has no deaths associated with it.”

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