Last week the National Football League committed to investing a million dollars in research funding to two teams of medical researchers to study the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in elite football players.
Medical teams from the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina in Canada were chosen from 106 proposals initiated by the NFL and the NFL Players Association's Joint Pain Management Committee in June 2021.
The league's million dollar research grant is an evolved approach to understand better and improve alternative pain management treatments. Many NFL players over the years have inquired about the benefits of cannabis and cannabinoids. Several former NFL alumni are involved in medical marijuana brands and have started their brands, invested in companies, or hired as ambassadors.
"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 so that we could have better-informed conversations with them," Hill said.
"I also want to emphasize that this is the first step here. The NFL has done great research in other areas: concussions, musculoskeletal injuries, etc. We're not limited just to cannabinoids. We're interested in figuring out, are there ways to treat pain better?
And so we're going to use this and look at this process and see if there's a way that we can improve this process, but continue to try to advance the science in the interest of players' health and safety."
Cannabis is currently a banned substance in the NFL. However, rules about players consuming marijuana were loosened in the latest collective bargaining agreement.
Under the most recent labor deal, players who test positive for marijuana are eligible to play, but they can be fined depending on the number of positive tests. The timing of testing also changed to the first two weeks of training camp instead of from April to August. Also, the threshold was raised fourfold to trigger a positive test.
The study led by Dr. Thomas Marcotte, Dr. Mark Wallace, and researchers at the University of California San Diego will investigate the effects of cannabinoids on pain and recovery from sports-related injuries in elite athletes.
The research led by Dr. J. Patrick Neary and researchers at the University of Regina studies naturally produced cannabinoids for pain management and neuroprotection from concussion and participation in contact sports.The projects will take three years to conduct.
"This type of work is going to be of interest to athletes in many different sports and at all levels," Sills said. "We know that all sports have some degree of injury and pain that are associated with those injuries. And so, I think this will be very universal.
These products are already out there, and in many cases, they're being widely used and widely marketed. So this research will help inform people about which strategies may be beneficial and then those that may not. And so I see this as being hugely impactful for the NFL, for all of the elite sport, but also sport at all level across society."