By Pat Anson, Editor
With the countdown underway for Super Bowl 50, there’s a renewed focus on the NFL’s high rate of injuries and concussions, and whether the league should be open to players using medical marijuana to treat their pain.
“The growing legality of the plant, especially for medical use, is putting the NFL into a bit of a moral quandary,” says former Denver Broncos wide receiver Nate Jackson.
“When you compare it to what the alternative is in their training rooms; pills, pills, pills, that are being put into these guys’ hands and turning them into addicts. I was never big on those pills. I medicated with marijuana and it helped me and I think it helped save my brain.”
Jackson suffered numerous injuries during his six years in the NFL, breaking several bones and suffering at least two concussions. After retiring, Jackson wrote a memoir about his football career, Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile and became an advocate for medical marijuana.
Pain News Network recently spoke to Jackson at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition in Los Angeles, where he told us he started smoking marijuana as a high school football player and has been using it ever since.
“It’s been pretty effective. It didn’t prevent me from getting to the NFL. It didn’t prevent me from excelling and being my best. It was an effective way to take the edge off, deal with pain, and deal with injuries without taking away my edge on the field,” said Jackson. “I would say probably half the guys (in the NFL) use marijuana. They’ve been using it since they were teenagers. They’re familiar with what it does with their bodies. Top level athletes, you tinker with the process as you go, with your body, with your performance, with what works for you and what doesn’t.
"So if these guys get into the NFL with a marijuana habit intact, it means that it’s under control, it’s actually something that works for them, works for their body, allows them to perform at the highest level they can, and it doesn’t affect them negatively. Because if it does affect them negatively, they get cut. The demands of the job are so strict and so intense, if you’re not playing well, you get cut. And so if they are in the league, they are playing really well. They’re punctual, they’re memorizing their playbook, and they’re taking care of their business. If they’re using marijuana to do that, I think it’s healthy.”
Although the NFL has a reputation as a league that closely monitors players for signs of illegal drugs or performance enhancing medication, Jackson says it’s relatively easy to avoid getting caught by a drug test.
“Because the street drug test is only once a year. It’s in May, June or July somewhere around there. Once you get it, then you’re good for the next year, as long as you don’t fail it. I never failed it,” he said.
“The problem is for those guys who get put into a substance abuse program. That could be because of a positive marijuana test or DUI or ephedrine or Adderall or domestic dispute program, whatever it may be. You get put in the substance abuse program and I would say there are maybe a couple hundred guys in the league who are in that program and you get tested. You’re urine tested three or four times a week, every week, all year long for several years.”
Several current players support Jackson’s claim that at least half of the NFL is using marijuana. They told the Bleacher Report that many players smoke marijuana three or four times a week during the season. None of the players wanted to be identified.
"It's at least 60 percent now," said Jamal Anderson, a former running back for the Atlanta Falcons. "That's bare minimum. That's because players today don't believe in the stigma that older people associate with smoking it. To the younger guys in the league now, smoking weed is a normal thing, like having a beer. Plus, they know that smoking it helps them with the concussions."
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon says medical marijuana helps him deal with severe headaches, depression, memory loss and early onset dementia – which he blames on the NFL’s negligence in handling concussions during his playing career. McMahon said he was taking 100 Percocet pills a month for pain before he started using marijuana.
"They were doing more harm than good," McMahon told the Chicago Tribune. "This medical marijuana has been a godsend. It relieves me of the pain — or thinking about it, anyway."
With about 300 players being put on injured reserve every season – many with career ending injuries – Nate Jackson says it’s time for the NFL to acknowledge what’s already happening and change its marijuana policy.
“I think they (injured players) should be given a choice at that point and be able to avoid the opioid painkillers, which are pretty much a scourge in the locker room,” Jackson says.
“When you get put on injured reserve, if you have a severe enough injury that your season is over, you’re going to be given drugs by the team doctors and the team trainers because you are legitimately hurt. Are you going to take those pills or are you going to take something else? I chose to take something else.”