The stress dreams started before Jake Plummer retired, and they always followed one of two scripts.
In one, the former All-Pro quarterback is locked in an argument with a former coach – hard-nosed Mike Shanahan, his coach for the Denver Broncos – over something Plummer did on the field. Plummer knows he’s right and makes his case, the coach will not or can not listen.
In the other dream, Plummer is in the locker room before a huge game. He can hear the roar of the crowd, he can hear the national anthem playing, he can hear his teammates preparing for kick off, and he can’t find his cleats.
Or more accurately, he can’t find the right cleats.
“I have a locker full of shoes,” he said, “and I can’t find any goddamn shoes to match.”
Plummer’s 10 years in the NFL was three times longer than the average professional football player’s career, but it ended a decade ago. And yet even at 41, he still feels immense stress – the stress of playing in front of tens of thousands of people, the stress of dealing with the media, the stress on his body. It didn’t go away, even after he retired.
NFL players handle stress a few ways. Some drink. Some pop the prescription opiates and anti-inflammatories handed out like Halloween candy.
And some – nobody knows just how many, but everyone agrees it’s more and more – use cannabis to manage the stress.
NFL Players on the Front Lines
Aside from combat sports like boxing and mixed-martial arts, football is America’s most violent and dangerous pastime. Pro football are so full of war metaphors they can sound like dispatches from the front lines.
Teams have offensive “weapons” they use to “attack.” Players “do battle” in the “trenches.” NFL veterans refer to themselves as “warriors” or “soldiers,” which perhaps can be forgiven, considering they suffer from many of the same ailments afflicting soldiers, sailors and Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – chronic pain, brain trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When Plummer retired, he did what many former NFL players do: He disappeared.
He moved to a cabin his family owns in Idaho, the state where he was born and first played football in high school. He worked with his brother as a volunteer assistant coach for a high school football team and popped back into the limelight briefly from time to time. Eventually he returned to Colorado, where he now resides.
He was a fan favorite during his time playing for Denver, but after his retirement the media called him a recluse. Really, he was just trying to heal his mind.
“I’m just one guy who had some of those feelings,” Plummer told Cannabis Now. “A whole slew of guys, when they’re done playing ball, a lot of them do go disappear. Or they go back to coach high school, when football was still a game.”
And the kind of abuse Plummer’s body was subjected to during his NFL career is not a game. He “woke up” a few times on the field, a clear sign of a concussion. Now the widespread nature of this kind of head trauma is causing a near-crisis in football, but at the time it was never diagnosed.
He had surgery to repair cartilage tears in his hips. He suffered from headaches and joint paint in his knees, hips, ankles and back. Whatever he was trying to do with his brain, his body would not follow.
And the dreams, the thoughts, the stress — he could feel the worries start to turn to anger and bitterness, and he didn’t want that.
“You don’t want to have regrets about life,” he said. “Regrets are damaging to the mind, body, and spirit.”
A CBD Breakthrough
This is where Plummer found himself last summer. Then, Nate Jackson, a former teammate on the Broncos and author of several books, reached out to some friends at CW Hemp, a Colorado company known for its flagship strain, Charlotte’s Web.
Charlotte’s Web is a high-CBD, low-THC strain of cannabis supposedly created by breeding cannabis flower with ditchweed, or wild hemp. It’s famous in the medicinal cannabis community for its reported analgesics and anti-inflammatory effects.
On Jackson’s recommendation, CW Hemp reached out and asked Plummer if he’d be willing to try a CBD-based tincture.
“It didn’t take any coercing for me – I was willing and ready to try it out to see how it would help me,” Plummer said.
And help it did. He said what really sold him was that first mountain winter.
“I felt completely different when the cold fronts came,” he said. “My body felt so much better – my joints and my ankles, my knees, my hips, my back. The headaches were gone… that’s when I became a firm believer”
Plummer is one voice in a growing chorus of former pro football players advocating cannabis as a healing tonic, particularly for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked to repeated head trauma.
He’s now a chief figure with a movement called When the Bright Lights Fade, a research, advocacy and outreach effort of CW Hemp’s charitable foundation, Realm of Caring.
Along with former running back Ricky Williams, who racked up repeated suspensions for marijuana use while in the league, Plummer is arguably the game’s biggest name to advocate cannabis. But he said it was barely mentioned during his playing days.
He’d occasionally catch a whiff of it at postgame parties, when teammates returned from a trip to their cars outside, but that was it. Remember, even medical marijuana was illegal everywhere except California when he started playing.
“It wasn’t something you talked about,” he said. “If you were good buddies with a guy, you might, but not in the locker room. You kept it secret – we didn’t ever know, maybe the building was bugged.”
And while the league has raised the threshold for a positive test threefold — from 5 nanograms of THC metabolites per milliliter of blood to 15 — that’s still 10 times as strict as the standard to which Olympic athletes are held.
Plummer thinks it’s patently absurd that the league imposes restrictions on cannabis while promoting alcohol.
“I can’t tell you how many guys are using it,” he said, “but illegal or not, guys are putting their careers at risk for a better outlet than alcohol, which is a humongous sponsor in the NFL.”
He believes there are people today who could change the NFL’s stance on cannabis in an instant if they wanted to. There are exactly 32 of them – or 31 plus the shareholders of the Green Bay Packers, technically: the NFL’s owners.
But there’s still a lot of work left to convince them that marijuana should be openly allowed into the league.
“Our stance is not to fight the NFL on this,” Plummer says. “We want to work with them, and we’ll continue to do it. Whether they help us or not, we want to help their league be even better – that’s all we’re doing.”