NFL Puts Up $1 Million for Pain Management Study

pain management

The league wants to learn more about opioid alternatives, including cannabis and CBD treatments

By: Jason Langendorf

In a significant shift from its longstanding position on marijuana, the National Football League (NFL) will invest $1 million in grants for the study of pain management treatments, including cannabis and cannabinoids (CBD).

Earlier this month, the NFL and its union, the NFL Players Association, announced that the league’s Pain Management Committee (PMC) would issue grants through a formal request for proposal (RFP) process to fund research for pain management alternatives to opioids.

“The goal of this funding opportunity is to provide funding support for up to five pilot research proposals from leading investigative teams in the fields of pain management and the effects of cannabinoids on athletic performance in elite football players,” the league announced in a release posted on its “Player Health & Safety” page.

The NFL Seeks Proposals from Researchers

The league identified three lines of potential inquiry as part of the RFP:

  1. The effects of cannabinoids on pain in elite football players (postsurgical and/or in daily pain management)
  2. The effects of non-pharmacologic treatments on pain in elite football players (postsurgical and/or in daily pain management)
  3. The effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance (e.g., psychomotor, reaction time, cardiorespiratory function) in elite football players

Interested research groups must submit pre-proposals by completing the designated form by July 31, 2021, at 6:00 p.m. EST.

Cannabis Still on the NFL’s Restricted List

Even as marijuana policies have been relaxed in some other American professional sports, such as Major League Baseball (MLB), the NFL has only recently begun to consider the potential merits of cannabis and CBD as a pain management alternative. Although the collective bargaining agreement ratified last year eased certain penalties for marijuana use under the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the drug remains on the league’s restricted list.

Kevin Hill, M.D., co-chairman of the PMC and director of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Division of Addiction Psychiatry, emphasized that the league is still very much in the fact-finding phase of cannabis and CBD research. “When we talk about having elite athletes use CBD to treat pain, we want to make sure it’s, number one, safe and, number two, efficacious. I don’t think we’re at that point yet,” Hill told reporters on a call to discuss the PMC grants.

Subject to brutal physical punishment on the field and potentially dangerous and addictive painkillers in the training room, many NFL players in recent years have turned to marijuana as a pain-management solution and have advocated for its perceived benefits.

“There is a need for better information, better science,” Hill said.

Photo: Sandro Schuh