As the National Football League playoffs start this weekend, doctors and athletes will continue to push for the NFL’s players to gain access to medical cannabis — specifically conversations about both active and retired NFL players and the use of medical cannabis as an alternative to treatment with opioids.
While conversations about cannabis might happen on the field throughout the playoffs, they are guaranteed to occur off the field during this year’s Super Bowl weekend. On Feb. 2 and 3, the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association will host its “NFL & Medical Cannabis Conference” in Miami. Make no mistake — this event could possibly restart the offseason pressure for the league to remove cannabis from its banned substances list, as the conference’s keynote speaker is Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, the physician who first identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disease. Two years ago, it was found in 87 of 91 deceased NFL players tested, most notably Hall of Famer Junior Seau, who took his own life with a gunshot to the chest. His family donated his brain to the National Institute of Health for study.
But generally, the discussion of medical cannabis in the NFL at the conference will go far past CTE. Other major points will include the use of cannabis for chronic pain in former NFL athletes and the impact various cannabinoids have on other neurodegenerative diseases, too. Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of The Dent Neurologic Institute in New York and Dr. Jerzy Szaflarski, who both are top researchers on medical cannabis and neurodegenerative disorders, will lead these conversations.
Dr. Jason Pirozzolo, co-founder of AMMPA, said the conference merges the world of traditional western medicine and alternative medical marijuana treatments in order to “provide an opportunity for like-minded physicians from around the world to engage in educational topics that could begin to change the way medicine is practiced.”
One of the players who will be taking part in the conference is Florida native Treyous Jarrells. After a sophomore year at Colorado State University that saw him average 5.2 yards a carry, Jarrells entered his junior year with a new coach and high expectations. But when a drug test loomed in front of him, Jarrells decided to quit the team rather than risk losing his financial aid. That’s because Jarrells knew he had THC in his system.
Unbeknownst to the university, Jarrells had competed for all but one of his college football games high, as he used cannabis to treat his football injuries instead of NCAA-approved painkillers.
In fact, Jarrells would swap out the team-issued Rice Krispie Treats for something with a little more kick before each game, which he’d eat in the locker room.
Jarrells entered the cannabis industry after he finished his degree, and the rest is history. Now back home in the simmering medical cannabis market of Florida, he spoke with Cannabis Now on a wide range of topics, starting with just how much the cannabis and football conversation has changed since he stepped off the field.
“What’s happening recently is the NFL is raising more questions about if medical cannabis can be an alternative for our athletes,” Jarrells said. He believes research being done at places like the University of Miami, as well as the support of the AMMPA, will really get the ball moving.
“That’s what we need in this industry to try and enter the sports world. That’s the kind of credibility we need,” Jarrells said. “If we have physicians saying, ‘Hey, we believe medical cannabis can help these athletes because of X, Y, and Z,’ it’s more credible. It makes people pay attention more, instead of a bunch of athletes saying we think medical cannabis should be an option.”
In a slice of fun irony, we asked Jarrells what it was like to be lined up to take part in Super Bowl weekend festivities, despite the fact that he stepped away from the game years ago.
“It feels great,” he replied, going on to speak of the legends he’s got to meet during his time in the industry. “Willis McGahee was just here, I been around Ricky Williams, Jake Plummer, Marvin Washington. All these guys I looked up to in the game. Now they’re asking me questions… It’s humbling.”
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