Medical Cannabis & The Opiate Epidemic: NFL Players & Doctors Speak at Harvard, CannMed 2017

Attitudes towards the medicinal use of cannabis are definitely changing; the CannMed 2017 Conference was a great example of this. Harvard Medical School’s Joseph B. Martin Conference Center was packed with doctors, researchers, cannabis industry professionals and NFL players, all together to discuss the latest developments and research in cannabis.


CannMed 2017 at Harvard Medical School

Billed as a “gathering of the greatest minds in medical cannabis research”, CannMed offered a wide range of seminars and panel discussions featuring topics including cannabis for treatment of cancer, cannabis safety testing, regulatory challenges and the latest developments in molecular science and cannabis genetics.

Smokers Guide TV’s Uncle Stoner was there to cover the event and one topic in particular seemed to gain a lot of attention; cannabis vs opiates. Former NFL players, Eben Britton (39th Overall Pick NFL Draft, Jaguars & Chicago Bears) and Ricky Williams (Heisman Trophy Winner 1998, 5th Overall Pick NFL Draft Saints, Dolphins, Argonauts [CFL], Ravens) spoke with us about their experiences with pain medication and the damage that opiates can do.


A recent lawsuit filed by former NFL players showed the extent that opiates and other pain medications are used in the NFL. The court fillings reveal the huge amounts of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. In 2012, the average NFL team prescribed nearly 5,777 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 2,213 doses of controlled medications to its players. This means the average NFL player takes around an average of 6-7 pain pills or injections a week over the season. Most people know the physical stress professional sports can put on the body, especially sports like American Football; but the high use of pain medication is shocking to most.


Eben Britton and Ricky Williams on cannabis

Eben Britton and Ricky Williams, along with many other former NFL players and other sports professionals, have previously spoke out about how they preferred to use cannabis for treatment for pain and other health issues. They both have seen the damage done from the overuse of pain medication, and the benefits of cannabis. Though there is growing movement to allow medical cannabis use in the NFL, currently cannabis is on the banned substances list for the NFL. Players are forced to risk their health using strong, and often addictive pain pills or risk their career by using cannabis. Ricky Williams experienced this personally when in 2014 he decided to leave the NFL over issues with cannabis and pain medication.

The topic was also discussed in a special panel where Eben Britton and Ricky Williams discussed “Cannabis as Medicine in Professional Sports”. The panel also featured former NFL stars Nate Jackson and Lance Johnstone, as well as be joined by Dr. David Nathan, Dr. Perry Solomon; both experienced medical professionals who campaign for medical access to cannabis.

We spoke with Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, a cannabis therapeutics specialist with many year experience with medical cannabis patients, who shared the shocking but well known fact that most doctors do not understand cannabis; the endocannabinoid system (the body’s system of receptors for THC and CBD etc.) is not generally taught to medical students. "Big Mike" from Advanced Nutrients; one of the world’s largest cannabis nutrient companies, shared his thoughts on the situation, commenting, “I predict within about 10 to 15 years 50% of all Americans will be using some form of cannabis in their life” for treatment or relief.”


Cannabis over opiates

Over 60% of NFL players believe that painkiller use would decrease if the league allowed cannabis as an alternative according to an ESPN poll released in November 2016. Over 40% also preferred using cannabis for recovery and pain control, rather than addictive opiates and other high strength pain medications. As medical cannabis knowledge expands thanks to new laws and research maybe now is the time to look at the damage done by some medications, like the estimated 33,000 Americans a year who die from opiate overdoses, and ask whether cannabis, a non-toxic substance, could offer better care and treatment, for not only sports professionals but for all.


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