The NFL might be changing its mind on marijuana, if 2017 is any indication. News broke earlier this week via The Washington Post that the NFL offered to work with the players’ union to study marijuana as a form of pain management. The NFL Players’ Association hasn’t responded to the league’s offer, in part because the NFLPA is conducting its own study into the matter.
Now the NFL’s chief medical officer has come out in favor of marijuana research. Allen Sills is a Vanderbilt University neurosurgeon the NFL hired in March. He stated to the Washington Post that it’s “really important” the NFL and NFLPA work together in determining whether marijuana can be an effective and safe in managing players’ pain.
“I think we have a lot more to learn about that,” Sills told the Post. “Certainly the research about marijuana and really more particularly cannabinoid compounds as they may relate to the treatment of both acute and chronic pain, that is an area of research that we need a lot more information on and we need to further develop.
“I think that’s part of what we hope to accomplish together working together with the Players Association,” Sills said. “I think this is really important because I like to talk about that our approach to caring for players is really holistic. We want to talk about health and safety issues that affect the whole player experience. And certainly pain management is a big part of that.”
Just this year NFLPA executives and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated the NFL should relax its strict marijuana policies. (Though it should be mentioned Jones made his comments behind closed doors.) However, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made pejorative remarks regarding marijuana this April at the NFL Draft, stating cannabis has an “addictive nature” and could lead to “negative consequences,” minimizing the health benefits cannabis could have to its players.
Goodell reiterated throughout he was approaching cannabis usage from a “medical standpoint.” As he stated then, “So if people feel that it has a medical benefit, the medical advisors have to tell you that. […] To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players.”
Sills’ comments carry extra weight then, as the NFL’s chief medical officer. This could mean the league truly is willing to work with players on including marijuana as a pain management tool, or at least study its efficacy. Marijuana use currently remains banned under the league’s collectively bargained drug policy. Players who test positive for marijuana usage receive harsh penalties, including fines and suspensions.
“These really aren’t just football issues,” Sills said. “These are society issues, right? We know right now that as a society that the treatment of both acute and chronic pain is a huge public health problem. In fact, I think I just saw some recommendations of a congressional panel coming out asking that the president declare a national state of emergency about opioid use in this country. So these are societal issues. But I think that we in professional sports are in a unique position to help inform the public and to do research and really advance our state of understanding about this issue.”