The NFL is about to spend $1 million to study whether cannabis products might help its athletes manage pain better or recover from the effects of concussions.
The league said this week it had awarded the cash to research teams from the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina to conduct two separate studies. They were chosen from among 106 proposals for such research under a program launched jointly by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the union representing athletes in the league.
It’s not the same as ending the NFL’s prohibition on players smoking weed, which some have already acknowledged they do to help manage pain related to playing a brutal game for 18 weeks every season. But it does represent the NFL taking a step that’s in line with a nationwide movement away from marijuana prohibition, which includes partial or outright prohibition in some cities that are home to NFL teams.
The $1 million research grant is a progressive move by the league to better understand and improve alternative pain management treatments. Many NFL players over the years have inquired about the benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids. Several former players are involved in the medical-cannabis business and have either started their own brands, invested in companies or been hired as ambassadors.
Cannabis is a banned substance in the NFL, although rules about players using marijuana were loosened in the latest collective bargaining agreement.
Under the most recent labor deal, players who test positive for marijuana are no longer suspended but they can be fined depending on the number of positive tests. Timing of testing was changed to the first two weeks of training camp instead of from April to August. Also, the threshold needed to trigger a positive test was raised fourfold.
It’s a slightly progressive step from a league that still penalizes professional athletes for celebrating and is being sued by one of its most talented former coaches for allegedly racist hiring practices.
But we have to ask: wouldn’t it have been easier–and cheaper–to just ask players who already use weed how they feel after games?