The Marijuana Ad You Won’t See During the Super Bowl

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The hype over Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots took a back seat this week to a debate over the benefits of medical marijuana.

The February 3 game is being broadcast by CBS, which rejected a 30-second Super Bowl ad by Acreage Holdings -- the cannabis company that recently hired former House speaker John Boehner as a spokesman. Along with the other broadcast networks, CBS currently does not accept any cannabis related advertising.

The Acreage ad features 3 cannabis users -- a boy who suffers from epilepsy, a man who took opioid medication for 15 years for back pain, and a military veteran who suffers from phantom limb pain after losing a leg in the service. The ad doesn’t promote Acreage products, but urges viewers to call their congressional representatives and advocate for medical marijuana.

“We’re disappointed by the news but somewhat unsurprised,” Acreage President George Allen told CNN Business. “Still, we developed the ad in the spirit of a public service announcement. We feel it’s our responsibility to advocate on behalf of our patients.”

The chief marketing officer for Acreage was less diplomatic.

“You will see countless ads (during the Super Bowl) for beer and erectile dysfunction medications but our ad with an educational goal to help people who are suffering is rejected. That is the irony we are looking to highlight,” Harris Damashek told the Green Entrepreneur.

A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl would have cost Acreage over $5 million, but the company is getting a lot of free publicity over the controversy.  A 60-second version of the ad was posted on YouTube.

Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and Washington DC, but remains illegal under federal law. Although cannabis is a banned substance in the NFL, many current and former players use it for pain relief.

“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,” former NFL player Nate Jackson told PNN. “I was never big on those pills. I medicated with marijuana and it helped me and I think it helped save my brain.”

Although the NFL has a reputation as a league that closely monitors and disciplines players for illegal drug use,  Jackson estimates over half its players currently use marijuana to relieve pain and stress after games.

Pain Patients Ignored in Reaction to Super Bowl Ad

By Nicole Hemmenway, Guest Columnist

While the issue of pain medication and addiction has been a hot topic in the media and government for quite some time, a TV commercial shown during the Super Bowl seemed to add more fuel to the fire. 

Initially, I thought these conversations would be beneficial to those of us – like myself – who deal with pain. I believed that in 2016 we had come a far way from judging people with disabilities, and that the patient voice would finally be heard for positive, proactive, and bipartisan change to occur.

I was wrong. Sadly, the focus has not been on the patient. Instead, media coverage (and a White House press conference) has chosen to only address the high rate of opioid overdose.

There is scrutiny from the public, those running our nation and the media that such an ad, designed by multiple patient advocacy groups to raise awareness about a serious issue (opioid induced constipation), is seen as a way to further stem the opioid epidemic. The ad became an excuse for politicians and high-profile individuals to push an agenda that only stigmatizes the pain patient more.  To my dismay, the patient voice wasn’t only lost in the rhetoric, it was obsolete.

I am angry. Very angry. We have two very serious problems happening in America right now: addiction and the pandemic of pain. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine reported that over 100 million Americans live with some type of pain brought on from a chronic condition, illness or injury. This is a staggering number that will only grow higher, and not enough is being done to help these Americans.



My issue is that it appears most people only want to state how terrible pain medications are, and how they are the reason we have such a high addiction and overdose rate. The only discussion to “fix” the crisis is to limit access to treatment. Repeatedly, I hear the answer is to deny legitimate people living with pain access to the treatments their providers deem beneficial for them. That is not a solution. This doesn’t solve or even curtail the problem. In my mind, I see it as a cop-out; a loosely fit Band-Aid if you will.

Let me be clear. I am not pro-drugs. In fact, the high doses of medications I was prescribed nearly took my life a decade ago. Thankfully, I was able to try countless treatment options and found my answer in a non-invasive electrical stimulation device, as well as diet change, light therapy, acupuncture, upper cervical care and exercise. 

I live in the San Francisco Bay area. Because of where I reside, I have access to every possible complementary therapy. I can try active release technique, reiki, healing touch and hot mineral springs. There are wonderful interdisciplinary programs nearby. Anything that may help me move past my pain is available. Yet the downside is that nearly none of these treatments are covered by insurance.

So while I have access to them – unlike rural areas, where finding a complementary practitioner is impossible – I also have to pay out-of-pocket. And they are not cheap!

The cost of my health insurance – like millions of others who need it – is obscene. For my family, our monthly premium is $827.34 (my husband’s employer contributes an additional $225). Our deductible is $9,000, with an out-of-pocket max of $13,000 for the year. This is the reality for most Americans. With that, how is it feasible for Americans living with pain to afford additional treatments? It is not.

The actual problem is not being addressed, and I would love to be given the opportunity to talk with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Senator Ron Wyden or Dr. Andrew Kolodny about the real issue. I believe most people taking pain medications want to lower their dose or even not need them. But there has to be other treatment options in place to help control the pain. What are we offering now? Nothing, really. 

That is the problem, and this is where I hoped the discussion surrounding the Super Bowl, pain care in America and addiction would have went this past week. Unfortunately, it did not. As a society, we keep missing opportunities to really advance the issue of healthcare and pain care. There is a serious pandemic called chronic pain that is widely misunderstood and inadequately treated.

Right now, the public persona sees those with pain as “junkies” (thanks Bill Maher for adding to the misperception). I take huge offense to that. We are not junkies or addicts. We are people following legitimate treatments our providers believe will help us. And even with that, many cannot receive the medications or care they need and deserve.

This, in my mind, is injustice. It is time to stop shaming a quarter of our population for having pain. They are just trying to find answers so they can return to a better quality of life.

So I leave you all with these questions to ask yourselves. When will the voices of those with pain be considered a priority to America? How can we make sure those with pain have access to ALL forms of care? What can we do to begin working together so we find a balanced approach to pain management?

There will be a solution, as soon as we start asking the right questions.  To start, America needs to care for those of us with invisible illnesses. Our voices must be part of the discussion, which sadly, they have not been. Let us do our part to change this now.

Nicole Hemmenway is vice-president of U.S. Pain Foundation, a non-profit patient advocacy group. Nicole is also the author of No, It Is NOT In My Head: The Journey of a Chronic Pain Survivor from Wheelchair to Marathon.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us.  Send them to:

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Constipation Ad Leads to Laughs and Anger

By Pat Anson, Editor

Next to the game itself, probably the one thing people talk about the most to day after the Super Bowl are the TV commercials.

One commercial that is making quite a few lists as one of the worst is by drug maker AstraZeneca promoting its opioid induced constipation (OIC) drug. The black and white commercial features a constipated man envious of others (even a dog) who can easily go to the bathroom.

“The Super Bowl is known for inspiring lots of eating and lavish spreads of food. So why would advertisers pay millions to air ads focusing on constipation?” asked Eric Deggans of National Public Radio.  “There may never be a great time to air ads like this, but to broadcast such spots in an event where viewers are eating stuff like guacamole dip and pizza surely is the worst.”

“Nothing livens up a Super Bowl like a commercial about opioid-induced constipation,” said ESPN’s Dan Graziano on Twitter.

“Opioid Induced Constipation commercial during the Superbowl? Should have aired that during the Pro Bowl. Nobody gives a sh** about it,” wrote Don on Twitter.

Most of the Tweets aimed for laughs, but one by comedian and talk show host Bill Maher quickly went viral – and not because most people thought it was funny.

“Was that really an ad for junkies who can’t sh**? America, I luv ya but I just can’t keep up,” wrote Maher.

The depiction of opioid patients as “junkies” really got under the skin of pain sufferers and patient advocacy groups, some of whom are sponsored by AstraZeneca.

OIC Tweet.jpg

“You’re a funny guy but for many #chronicpain is real and opioids are needed for quality of life,” replied on Twitter.

“This has to be the dumbest f***ing tweet I have read all day. Don’t ever become sick, sir. Just be glad for your perfect DNA,” wrote Ryan Stevens.

“I’m offended. Ad NOT for junkies but for people with CHRONIC pain who HAVE to have medicine to SURVIVE,” tweeted Caroline Evans.

“I am appalled at this, basically calling all people with pain junkies and making the side effect OIC seem like its no big deal,” said Paul Gileno, U.S. Pain Foundation. 

AstraZeneca paid CBS big money for its one minute spot, perhaps as much as $10 million – yet the commercial never even mentions the drug’s name, Movantik, which the British drug maker introduced in 2014.

The commercial may also have the unintended effect of giving more ammunition to those who want to further restrict access to opioid pain medication, a major goal of the Obama administration.

"Next year, how about fewer ads that fuel opioid addiction and more access to treatment," asked White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Twitter.

"Our Administration is determined to control opioid addiction as a public health threat," replied White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

Players Say Half of NFL Using Medical Marijuana

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.

nate jackson

nate jackson

“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.”