The pain management committee of the NFL and the NFL Players Association will provide $1 million in funding for research into pain management and cannabinoids, the committee announced Tuesday.
The request for proposal is the next step in the NFL's shift on the use of marijuana by players, some of whom have long maintained that it was safer for them to use marijuana to treat pain than to take prescription medication.
For years, the NFL suspended players if they tested positive for marijuana multiple times. That changed with the collective bargaining agreement approved a year ago. Now, the league wants to know more about how safe cannabis and CBD are and if they work, particularly as a potential alternative to opioids -- an interest that follows broader societal concerns about pain management and the use and risks of powerful opioids.
Up to five grants are expected to be awarded around Thanksgiving.
Dr. Kevin Hill, the co-chair of the pain management committee, director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the author of Marijuana: The Unbiased Truth about the World's Most Popular Weed, said that right now, the level of interest in the use of medical marijuana far exceeds the level of evidence available.
He said that the committee has heard mixed results from players about using marijuana to treat pain. Hill said that there is some indication that using medical marijuana and CBD to treat pain may be riskier than most people realize and that the doses necessary to address pain may create risk for liver toxicity and interactions with other medications.
Dr. Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer, said another question looms over the use of medical marijuana that the league hopes will be answered with more research: how does using cannabis and CBD to treat pain affect performance in elite athletes?
"There is a need for better information, better science," Hill said.
Later, Hill added, "When we talk about having elite athletes use CBD to treat pain, we want to make sure it's, No. 1 safe, and No. 2 efficacious. I don't think we're at that point yet."