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NFL Awards $1 Million to Two Cannabis Research Initiatives

Two cannabis-related research projects funded by the National Football League (NFL), are being supported by funds from this league.

On February 1, the NFL released a press statement stating that it will present $1 million to 2 researchers at University of California San Diego and University of Regina, both in Canada. Each group will examine how cannabinoids may be used to aid general pain management. Other studies are planned.

Kevin Hill was the Co-Chair NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee. He is also Director of Addiction Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Hill said that the decision to study marijuana consumption in NFL players’ will result in positive results. “The NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee is thrilled with the results of this process. We received over 100 proposals from top clinicians and researchers from around the world,” said Dr. Hill. “The NFL is eager to advance the science of pain management and performance in an effort to improve the health and safety of the players.”

The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills shared his views on the subject. He expressed hope that such initiatives will be the basis for many other studies. “As with the league’s broader approach to health and safety, we want to ensure that our players are receiving care that reflects the most up-to-date medical consensus,” said Dr. Sills. “While the burden of proof is high for NFL players who want to understand the impact of any medical decision on their performance, we are grateful that we have the opportunity to fund these scientifically-sound studies on the use of cannabinoids that may lead to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact the pain management of our players.”

The NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC) called for research proposals in June 2021, asking for researchers to “supplement the PMC’s knowledge about pain management and athletic performance.” The committee received a total of 106 submissions, which was narrowed down to 10 finalists by the NFL Research and Innovation Committee. Following oral presentations and written breakdowns, the NFL decided to select the final two research teams.

The UCSD study, entitled “Effects of Cannabinoids on Pain and Recovery from Sports-Related Injuries in Elite Athletes: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” will be led by Dr. Thomas Marcottee, Mark Wallace, and other colleagues at the university. Participants can vape after suffering from game-related injuries to help them study the beneficial and harmful effects of THC/CBD, CBD or THC/CBD products. “Our team is excited to receive this funding to conduct a systematic, ‘real-world, real-time’ study with professional athletes, and which should shed further light upon the many anecdotal reports that cannabis is helpful in reducing post-competition pain,” said Wallace.

The UR study, called “Naturally Produced Cannabinoids for Pain Management and Neuroprotection from Concussion and Participation in Contact Sports,” will be led by Dr. J. Patrick Neary and other researchers at the college, as well as the British Columbia. They will also examine whether CBD and THC are effective in pain management. Secondly, it will also examine the “neuroprotective properties” of cannabis as a treatment for concussion injuries. “The prevention and treatment of concussions is at the core of my research. That’s why I am excited to have the support of the NFL on this project,” Dr. Neary shared. “Our interdisciplinary research team believes that different cannabinoid formulations found in medical cannabis have the potential to benefit athletes suffering from the acute and long-term chronic effects of concussions. We will be demonstrating that cannabinoids are an option to opioids in pain management. Ultimately, this study has the potential to change not only the lives of current and former NFL players, but also the lives of anyone who may suffer from a concussion.”

The NFL press release explicitly states that the results of these studies “will have no impact on the jointly administered Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse in place under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA).”