An NFL player has been suspended by the league for using medical marijuana to treat pain associated with inflammatory bowel disease so severe that he required intestinal surgery.
The NFL suspended Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson for 10 games for what the player’s agent tells The Associated Press stems from his client using marijuana to relieve the effects of Crohn’s disease.
The Bills announced the league notified them on Tuesday of Henderson’s suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
It’s Henderson’s second suspension this year after he served a four-game ban to start the season.
Henderson’s agent, Brian Fettner, called the league’s decision “heartbreaking,” and added he cannot appeal the suspension because the NFL doesn’t allow an exemption for medical marijuana use.
“His situation is unique, but the drug policy doesn’t line up with the uniqueness. It’s disappointing,” Fettner said.
“The reality is, the NFL’s position has been if you need medical marijuana then you’re too sick to play,” he added. “But that’s just not the case for Seantrel Henderson.”
Henderson will sit out the final five games of the season, and the suspension will carry on either into the playoffs or next season.
Henderson was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease a year ago and had two operations on his intestines last offseason. Doctors removed a section of diseased tissue in January, and Henderson then had his intestines reattached in April.
Several studies have found marijuana can be an effective treatment for Crohn’s. In New York, the state’s medical marijuana program specifically lists patients diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease as being potentially eligible to obtain medical marijuana.
Henderson previously acknowledged testing positive for the drug at the NFL combine in 2014 and said positive tests led to him being suspended several times in college.
Buffalo selected Henderson in the seventh round of the 2014 draft out of the University of Miami. He earned the starting job at right tackle as a rookie and started 26 games before being diagnosed with the disease.
Fettner called the NFL’s reasoning to ban marijuana murky because it is legal in numerous states across America. He also questioned why the league doesn’t consider marijuana to be an effective treatment in certain cases.
“They’ll give you painkillers by the bottle, which are far, far worse than cannabis,” Fettner said. “For some reason, the NFL isn’t there yet.”
He said Henderson hasn’t given up on continuing his playing career, but acknowledged his client faces a weighty decision.
“The reality of it is, it’s a question of personal wealth and pain management,” Fettner said.
—Written by John Wawrow, AP Sports Writer
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