Every year, there are about 6.8 million bones broken in the U.S., and even more sprains and muscle strains. In the world of professional sports, these are all too common.
With such frequent injuries, many sports doctors are hesitant to prescribe painkillers, as they’re hardwired with addictive properties. To combat addiction among professional athletes, some people have come forward with an alternative: Cannabis.
Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states, and recreational use is allowed in eight, plus the District of Columbia. But regardless of state, professional sports governing bodies have issued organization-wide bans on marijuana.
With few other options for treatment, athletes must be prescribed opiate painkillers, muscle relaxers, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like Tylenol or Aleve.
Not only can these drugs be addictive, but they are also dangerous and can cause serious chemical changes within the body.
According to Dr. Zach Sparer of Green Wellness, taking opiates interrupts the body’s pain signals to the brain by flooding pain receptors with damping effects, which can have some serious cross effects on the pituitary gland and hypothalamus. This means when taken over time, “this down regulation appears to have cross over effects across the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.”
“[This can trigger] something called panhypopituitarism, with symptoms of fatigue, obesity, diabetes, insomnia, depression, GI inhibition and decreased libido often resulting,” says Dr. Sparer.
Even NSAIDs, which are much more mild forms of painkillers, can be very dangerous if used regularly. If the CDC separated deaths caused by NSAIDs and OTC drugs and prescription painkillers, NSAIDs would be the 15th most common cause of death in the United States. Marijuana, on the other hand, does not lead to kidney or liver failure.
Former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer is a vocal proponent of the use of cannabis for sports injuries, and uses CBD oil legally to treat his post-career aches and pains.
“I feel like with what this has done for me that it’s a wonder medicine,” Plummer said in a Huffington Post interview.
The NFL isn’t the only organization with strict anti-marijuana laws. The NBA has similar regulations, but that hasn’t stopped people from arguing to overturn them.
Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors; Phil Jackson, President of the New York Knicks; and ESPN’s Jay Williams have publicly supported the use of medical marijuana for pain relief in place of pills.
In an ESPN Countdown segment, former NBA point guard Chauncey Billups made his point of view known.
“For medicinal use, I think we absolutely need to have that conversation,” said Billups. “We’ve been through a ton of injuries. I’ve seen a piece on Jason Williams, who was the number two pick in the draft, that talked about him being addicted to Oxycontin and pain pills, and it would have been much better and much easier thing to have marijuana as a relief.”
Billups admitted that he’d even encouraged some of his teammates to smoke weed before games to keep them loose and focused.
In clinical trials, medical marijuana has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation, control muscle spasms, and promote relaxation.
With legalization becoming more widespead, we can expect the conversation about medical marijuana in professional sports to continue.
“The world is changing,” said Plummer. “We’re not fighting [the NFL]. We’re just trying to offer a solution to a problem that they’re never going to avoid, as much as they refuse to admit it.”