The National Football League is at a crossroads.
It is facing a concussion problem that it can no longer deny. There might be something that can help … but it’s currently sitting on the NFL’s banned substances list. Eventually, the league is going to have to make a decision on marijuana.
Former San Diego State offensive lineman Kyle Turley played 8 seasons in the NFL. As it did with many players, the savage nature of the game at the point of attack took a toll on his body … and eventually his mind.
“I got to a point of hopelessness where I was consistently taking pills every day to deal with ailments that I received playing football,” says Turley. “It started here at San Diego State where I blew my knee out in 1996 and that started me on an opiate addiction. I had a personal experience with cannabis that changed my life. It saved it.”
Some NFL players have reportedly taken up to 30 pain killers in a day to combat the lingering pain of injuries they suffered playing the game. Turley says he was not at that level but still, the addiction to opiates was taking him down a dark, dark path.
“As I sat on my couch, hopeless with life, when I’ve got a beautiful wife and kids sitting at home and a lot of money and all these great things that I’ve accomplished that I should be pretty proud and happy about, and I found myself depressed and in an unbelievable hole.”
Turley was introduced to cannabis and all of a sudden his quality of life improved. No more pain killers. No more thoughts of ending the pain permanently. He believes so much in the restorative properties of cannabis that he founded Neuro Armor, a company that develops cannabis products.
“It is highly important that people understand what this plant can do to its full extent. We are seeing unbelievable things in our community and that’s what happened to me. It almost took my life.”
However, the NFL has long been firmly against marijuana use, even the kinds that eliminate THC (the substance that makes a user feel “high”). Turley is hoping a spike in scientific research will help pro football reconsider that stance.
“You hope that the NFL, being the organization that they are with as much power as they have, that they would advance things; that they wouldn’t follow. I like some of the things I’m hearing, that is a shift happening with the National Football League where they are opening their ears finally to what cannabis can do for their community.”
The NFL Players Association is forming a committee to study the effects of marijuana for managing pain. A recent survey by ESPN The Magazine revealed 71% of NFL players would approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes and it appears the league is finally starting to have a change of heart.
The NFL is looking to hire a new Chief Medical Officer to oversee health initiatives and they want the candidate to be well versed on the science of cannabis. Speaking of science, Turley is not simply making claims based on his own personal experience.
The medical community continues to study the effects on cannabis, specifically how it can impact traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) that has been diagnosed in multiple former players. What they are finding is something the NFL needs to keep a close eye on.
“Neuro-protective benefits showing significant benefit for these potential TBI patients,” says Dr. Stuart Titus, C.E.O. and President of Medical Marijuana Inc. Titus cites research from UCLA and the University of Virginia that suggests cannabinoids can reduce brain inflammation.
“Research is still very much at the ground stage right now,” says Titus, “but there certainly seems to be this anti-inflammatory benefit as well as a neuro-protectant, and we believe even a neuro-regenerative process.”
That has only been proven in mice but Titus says human studies will start soon. He claims cannabinoids provide the very kind of protection that football players need most.
“These cannabinoids act as a second football helmet that is always with you,” says Titus. “There’s been some great research out of UCLA Medical Center. They looked at 450 young adults who unfortunately were in TBI situations. Of the ones who were in these TBI situations the ones who were regular cannabis users were 80% more likely to survive, and this is presumably because they had this second football helmet effect with them at all times.”
Turley sees the impact of cannabis extending beyond the football field and in to the military community. Now that California has voted to legalize marijuana, Turley believes his adopted home town is a in a unique position to have an impact on the future of cannabis.
“San Diego has every reason to want to advance the science behind cannabis,” says Turley. “We have over 22 soldiers a day committing suicide [a study from the Department of Veterans Affairs says the number of veterans who commit suicide daily is 20]and one of our greatest, most decorated veterans of the NFL, our own home town son, Junior Seau should be here today if he had the opportunity to know what happened to him with his brain disease and been given the right medicine to deal with it.”
The research is ongoing but the NFL is at least taking notice. With all the concussion issues its players are enduring they are wise to look at any possible solutions.