Photo credit: Hence the Boom.
It is no secret that American football causes an insane amount of strain on the body. In fact, the National Football League (NFL) ranks third as the most strenuous sports league in the country. It is only beat out by boxing and MMA, according to the Bleacher Report.
According to a 2021 study by the University of Chicago, there were 3,025 injuries in the first four weeks of the 2020 NFL season alone. From concussions to torn ACLs, the pain experienced by these players has led to a million-dollar research race to find out what the best possible solutions are to get these players back on the field as quickly as possible. Practices like ice baths, acupuncture, and lymphatic massages are long-trusted methods; but the NFL is now turning to research pain management and healing through cannabis.
One of the most common long-term effects of being in the league is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). According to the American Brain Foundation, CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder that experts link to multiple head injuries like concussions. Symptoms include short or long-term memory loss, depression, anxiety, mood shifts, and erratic behavior that sometimes progresses into dementia.
CTE and sports have an obvious link, leading scientists to look into possible solutions. One study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that cannabinoids reduce anxious and nervous behavior, and can stabilize mood. They also found that cannabinoids stimulated neuron growth because of their antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. Cannabinoids also help prevent brain inflammation.
These benefits, in addition to the endocannabinoid system’s ability to modulate systems in our bodies, qualify cannabis as CTE symptom treatment, according to experts.
Capitalism and Cannabis
The sports industry as a whole brings in billions of dollars of revenue every year. As such, companies are quick to jump into new ventures that will add to their profits.
Cannabinoids as treatments for CTE is just one of those innovations. For example, an independent pharmaceutical company called Kanna Life, currently undergoing a rebranding as Neuropathix Inc., envisions a cannabis-derived capsule derived from cannabis that players take as part of their pregame routine. According to their website, they are researching the next best non-opioid cannabis therapeutic for pain management and treatments for conditions like CTE.
It is such a prevalent issue that the NFL themselves have invested $1 million in research. The research will look into cannabinoids’ effects on pain management and concussions in elite athletes, according to ESPN.
Dr. Kevin Hill, co-chair of the league’s Joint Pain Management Committee, told AP News that, “we’ve heard from the teams, from the medical staffs, from the players loud and clear that they’re interested in cannabis and cannabinoids, and so we wanted to do something that would advance the science in this area […].”
“We really want to know do they work? [Every] day I meet with patients who are interested in cannabinoids and it’s the same thing, we really don’t know the answers to that,” Hill added. “ So I’m thrilled to be a part of something that actually is going to get toward finding some answers […].”
The NFL recently lifted its restriction on cannabis during the off-season. A majority of NFL athletes use cannabis for pain management. So this historic turn of events allows players to indulge while not on the field without penalties, Insider reports. With this lift, it is easier to imagine a world where Neuropathix’s vision can be a reality.
Athletes are Investing in Cannabis, too
The U.S. is the only major nation to not offer universal free health care. The cost of care and prescriptions add up, disabling many Americans from getting or feeling better. That, alongside ethical issues with Big Pharma, is why people are turning to cannabis for pain management and other health issues, according to a study in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2021.
BigPharma is keen to get into the cannabis industry. They believe the only thing they are missing is data, which is extremely important. But other cannabis companies are doing their best to get into the sports game. Companies like Jeeter have collaborated with basketball players like Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Cookies’ collaboration with Gary Payton.
More athletes are opening up about using cannabis. In fact, many players including Martellus Bennett say that nearly 90% of players already use cannabis for pain, CBS Sports reports.
While many admit to using the plant in their off-time, some have even opened their own companies. For example, Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson launched his brand, Primitiv, in 2021. Additionally, Joe Montana is a large investor in Caliva, one California’s largest cannabis brands, according to the Crystal Ball Run. This lends brands credibility in the sports sector, which can later lead to trust.
Future Looks for Cannabis and Football
To be alive during the expansion of the cannabis industry is exciting. Society gets to see an emergence of innovation in lifestyle products and medicine. Being at the forefront of that industry has many companies racing to research and fund efforts to promote cannabis.
Of course, nothing can go further without definitive data. But once companies like Neuropathix or organizations like the NFL have that data, prevention and healing practices in the sports industry may take a large turn.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, central to the American way of life, and their willingness to research pain management with cannabis can have a significant impact on American society as a whole. They have taken a while to invest as cannabis is still a restricted substance and these restrictions can directly impact championship eligibility. But their million-dollar commitment is promising and may be the catalyst for other leagues to follow suit.
The community is full of strong brands that many trust in medical treatment. But, who will get to the game first?
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