NFL Awards $1 Million to Two Cannabis Research Initiatives

Both research groups that are receiving research funding from the NFL will be focusing on how cannabinoids can help with pain management and other football-related ailments.
NFL cannabis research

The National Football League (NFL) is taking another step forward by awarding funds to two cannabis research initiatives focused on the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment for pain management.

The NFL announced in a press release on February 1 that it would be presenting $1 million to two different researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and University of Regina (UR), which is located in Canada. Both researcher groups will be focusing on how cannabinoids can aid in general pain management, with a few other goal studies as well.

A statement on the matter was provided from Dr. Kevin Hill, Co-Chair, NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee, Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. According to Dr. Hill, this decision to further study cannabis consumption for NFL players will yield 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.”

NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills also shared his thoughts on the topic, with hope that these initiatives could be the foundation of many more studies to come. “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. After oral presentations and written breakdowns were presented, the NFL chose the final two research groups.

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. Their approach to study the therapeutic and adverse effects of THC, CBD or THC/CBD products by allowing participants to vape after game-related injuries. “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. Their main goal is also to examine the effects of THC or CBD as a form of pain management, and how it reduces the need for opioid prescriptions. 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. Our research will also work to show that cannabinoids can be used as an alternative to opioids for 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).”

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