LIFTED: Why Drug Addiction & Brain Injury Warrant Lifting the NFL’s Cannabis Ban (Review)

Written by Gaurav Dubey (M.S. Biotechnology)

“The NFL is a Big Deal”

NFL Medical Cannabis Marijuana Eugene Monroe Substance BanThe NFL is a big deal. But just how big of a deal is it? Various news outlets throw around numbers like forty-five billion and sixty-three billion, with the average franchise having a valuation of about 1.5–2 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money­—a lot of money. When moneymaking machines like the NFL generate that much income, plenty of unpleasant details, from domestic abuse charges to repeated concussions that can result in TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and potentially CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), get swept under the rug. America expects a great show on Sunday Nights (and Monday nights), and they get one. Our thirst for violence dates back as early as the days of ancient Rome, where gladiators fought to the death. A touchdown, unsurprisingly, warrants the loudest cheers in the stadium. But what elicits the second loudest cheers? It’s the big hits—the explosive collisions between players on the field. These collisions occur about 1,000–1,500 times a year for the average NFL player at an average force of 20Gs, the equivalent of a car travelling at 35mph and slamming into a brick wall head-on. This is what evokes some of the loudest cheers from the stadium. It speaks to our character as humans and our unrelenting obsession with violence. And unfortunately, it’s naïve to think football is going anywhere. Unless people simply stop watching outright, it will remain an important part of our culture. It will remain a massive, multi-billion-dollar industry dominating primetime television for the foreseeable future. After all, they do essentially own a day of the week.

Drug Addiction & Brain Injury 

Pills Addiction Drug Addiction Pain NFL Eugene MonroeBut what we can do is provide our players access to the best treatment and resources possible to attenuate the increasing epidemic of painkiller addiction and brain injury in the NFL. These are the two fronts upon which our special guest on the pilot episode of The Cannabis Report, former NFL player Eugene Monroe, is battling. His claim: that both issues can be significantly mitigated if the NFL lifts their ban on cannabis. Mr. Monroe is the former left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. As a football fan, I think that’s really cool. As a passionate medical cannabis advocate myself, however, I think that this is truly and genuinely awe-inspiring. He is the first player courageous enough to stand up and publicly advocate for Medical Cannabis in the NFL. I believe that with a greater number of successful people and social icons standing up and advocating for cannabis in our lifetime, the less people will be able to stigmatize and discriminate against its usage. Eugene continues to bring to light how out of hand the over prescription of opioid painkillers to NFL players has become. Beyond that, however, Eugene Monroe NFL RavensEugene is making known the benefits of Medical Cannabis as an alternative to addictive, narcotic painkillers. I highly encourage everyone to read his article Getting off the T-train, in which he talks about how most players elect to drop their boxers and take a toradol shot to the buttocks before the game. Toradol is an incredibly powerful NSAID, or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. Other drugs that are better known and that fall into this category are Advil, Aleve, and Motrin (Ibuprofen). Side effects of this drug include GI discomfort and ulcerations of the stomach. It is contraindicated for those who have any current bleeding, and could be very dangerous in the event of bleeding in the brain—one of the greatest, most common dangers facing football players on the field. So it’s probably not all that safe to be getting shot up with this stuff and then getting on the field to play a game where players’ heads get kicked around and beaten up more than the ball. Sadly, Eugene talks about the ever-pervading opioid epidemic that has found its way into pro-football, and how one of his close friends in the NFL fell victim to this disease and is now on the streets shooting heroin. That so much pain and suffering could be avoided, simply by lifting the league’s ban on cannabis, is gravely disappointing.

Let’s take a closer look at the science behind why cannabis can be so efficacious in treating both chronic pain and brain injuries…

The Science

 Using Cannabis as an Adjunct or Substitute for Opiates in the Treatment of Chronic Pain (Lucas, 2012). –Journal of Psychoactive Drugs

  • Oral doses of 10-25mg have been shown to relieve pain in cancer patients with little purported changes in mood.
  • A “growing body of evidence” supports the notion that cannabis can be an efficacious and successful adjunct or substitute for opiates in the treatment of chronic pain. Why?
    • CB1 & CB2 endocannabinoid receptors have been identified, with the majority of CB1 receptors in the CNS, including areas that are known to modulate the perception of pain.
    • Like the opioid receptor system, there are endogenous agonists (keys) that fit in the body’s cannabinoid receptors (locks), such as anandamide.
      1. Rats treated with a chemical blocker for anandamide showed an extended and more severe response to pain (Calignano et al. 1998). There is recent evidence that anandamide and methandamide can activate vanilloid receptors on sensory neurons
  • 9.4% THC cannabis smoked three times daily over five days significantly reduced pain and promoted sleep.
  • Studies show that when used in conjunction with opioids, cannabis helps provide greater cumulative pain relief. This has the advantage of reducing morbidity resulting from opioid overdose.
  • Studies also show that cannabis can reduce tolerance buildup to opioids, which can be a remarkable benefit, especially for players who have to continuously keep taking more.
  • Sativex, a pharmaceutical 1:1 whole plant extract, has shown to be well tolerated and efficacious for pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients.


Effect of marijuana use on outcomes in traumatic brain injury (Nguyen et al., 2014)  -The American Journal of Surgery

  1. Several studies have shown the neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids
  2. The study used logistic regression analysis in comparing cases of TBI where patients had a positive toxicology screen for THC (the active compound in cannabis) vs cases of TBI where patients did not test positive for cannabis. The mortality rate was then observed for the two groups and the findings are rather remarkable:
    1. Overall Mortality in the THC (-) group was: 11.5%
    2. Overall Mortality in the THC (+) group was only 2.4%
  3. The data shows that a positive THC screen was associated with decreased mortality in adults sustaining TBI.            
  4. Studies also show the reduction of edema and swelling in the brain post TBI when undergoing cannabis treatment.

TBI Traumatic Brain Injury NFL Football

A League of Denial

The evidence is compelling and warrants discussion. To ensure the safety of its players, the NFL should definitively lift their ban on cannabis. But just how likely is it that the NFL will actually reconsider their policy? Their handling of prior controversial issues, such as Dr. Omalu’s groundbreaking findings that blew the lid off CTE, suggest this could take a very long time.

The Frontline documentary A League of Denial demonstrated how adamant the NFL was in their stance that football does not cause brain damage. In spite of indisputable evidence, the NFL, for the longest time, denied all claims that football could cause any sort of brain damage whatsoever. The critically acclaimed film Concussion, featuring Will Smith, is based on those same real life events that inspired the Frontline documentary. It truly emphasizes the lengths the NFL went through to try and cover up the truth—that football is substantially dangerous to your health, specifically your brain. Like a prominent league doctor says in the documentary and the film, “If 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.” Well, mothers are still letting their children play football, and brain injury is continuing to be an issue in the NFL. In our interview with recently retired NFL player and medical cannabis advocate Eugene Monroe, he explicitly said he would not let his son participate in football. As mentioned, Monroe was the former left offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. Arguably the most violent position in the sport, he’s sustained several injuries, including concussions and a shoulder injury that required surgery. Like many players, he was on a regimen of painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and more, requiring him to take what he said was hundreds of pills throughout his career. He stated that cannabis use is definitely widespread in the NFL, as a lot of players simply need the relief they are no longer getting from the pills. Jim McMahon, a famous quarterback who won a Super Bowl with the Bears and their rivals, the Packers, has been open about his horrific addiction to Percocet (oxycodone). 26987148He stated that at one point, he was probably taking around 100 Percocet a day! What would it look like, and feel like, if all the children in the country who look up to their favorite players knew that their heroes were all doped out on narcotics when they get on the field? What does it look and feel like now that 31 former NFL players have committed suicide, an act that is likely the result of brain damage secondary to head trauma? And yet, the NFL is concerned about their “image” if they lift their ban on cannabis. It seems preposterous, egregious, ludicrous, even. . . but that’s the way it is right now.

It’s Time for a Change

It’s time for a change that the NFL needs to get on board with. This change is the lifting of the league’s cannabis ban and the subsequent incorporation of medical cannabis into the league’s arsenal of medications used to keep players in the best health possible. Until that happens, we can continue to expect the dire repercussions of football to surface and wreak havoc on America’s favorite sport. As much as we love violence as a country, pro athletes are not gladiators, and we are no longer savages. Need I remind you that we very briefly tried an experiment called the XFL? It was founded by Vince McMahon, founder of the WWF (now WWE), and has been described as nothing short of a “colossal failure”. It was our attempt to inject even more violence into this already very violent game. Troy Stark, an XFL player, even died during what was dubbed as the “human coin toss”, where the players fought in the middle of the field to see who got possession of the ball. Needless to say, the sport didn’t stick around too long after that.

So what can we do to help push this movement forward and expand access to what is literally being hailed as “The Miracle Drug”? Well, for one thing, we can open dialogues like this. We should also probably refrain from calling it a “miracle drug” if we want the medical community to take us seriously. We can talk about the issues and spread knowledge, facts, and data. We can share our experiences and the stories of others. Write to your local representatives and senators! Especially if you’re in a predominantly red state. Get involved in local movements and see if you have a NORML chapter. Read quality cannabis publications like The Cannabist to cultivate your understanding of cannabis and remain informed of the goings-on in the industry. And, if possible, stop supporting football.

Find Eugene’s episode on iTunes here!

Listen to the pilot episode of The Cannabis Report ft. Eugene Monroe here

Listen to our Biolitics recording session that inspired The Cannabis Report here!

Be sure to stay tuned for the Pilot Episode of The Cannabis Report entitled:

LIFTED: Why Drug Addiction & Brain Injury Warrants Lifting the NFL’s Cannabis Ban (listen to a teaser here)

Find The Cannabis Report, Biolitics & Dispensary 33 on Social Media.

Please reach out to us with questions/concerns as well as any topics you think we should discuss on the show. We do this for you! Thank you all so much for reading, listening, and staying engaged. We hope you enjoy our pilot episode of The Cannabis Report. We want to give a special shout out to our very special guest, Eugene Monroe! I would like to personally express my excitement and gratitude in working with the other two hosts for this show: Richard Park & Renzo Mejia of Dispensary 33. Another special shout out to our social media queen (she’s queen of other things, too) Téa Valadez! Thank you for all the insightful posts and all your help. We have a great team in place and I’m grateful to work with all of them. We record at Sonic Palace Music in Oak Park, just outside of Chicago. Thank you all so much! Until next time, I’m your host, Gaurav Dubey and you’re listening to The Cannabis Report.

Author: Gaurav Dubey
Founder/Host; The Cannabis Report & Founder

Edited by Dean Sangalis
Editor in Chief;

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2 Responses to “LIFTED: Why Drug Addiction & Brain Injury Warrant Lifting the NFL’s Cannabis Ban (Review)

  • Interesting discussion, I am curious to see what progresses of this topic. Additionally if they have found a link between such a controversial topic and possibly aiding in concussion based neurological injury.

Trackbacks & Pings

  • The Cannabis Report Pilot: LIFTED ft. Eugene Monroe - Biolitics :

    […] We reviewed 2 scientific, peer-reviewed journal articles regarding the role of Cannabis in Opioid Addiction & Brain Injury in this episode. To learn more about these articles, be sure to read the paper we published to accompany this podcast here! […]

    5 years ago

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