NFL Defies Prohibition to Fund Cannabis Research

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NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC) plans to award up to $1 million in grants to CBD and cannabis researchers.

A committee formed in 2019 by the National Football League (NFL) and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) announced plans to award grants to researchers who are researching the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), cannabis, and other opioid alternatives for pain management (1,2). The committee—called the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC)—plans to award up to $1 million in grants.

Dr. Kevin Hill, co-chair of the PMC, commented on how the federal policy unfavorably impacted the level of research permitted in the US, especially with the ongoing prohibition of cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Hill specifically recognized how the lack of funding in cannabis research also affected future advancements in research and that a lot of companies and states who significantly profit from the sale of cannabis and other cannabinoids do not contribute to science (2).

The PMC announced it is turning its attention to identifying potential research opportunities through a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process (3). The goal of this funding opportunity is to request proposals from researchers who have the ability to conduct studies that will help supplement the PMC’s knowledge on athletic performance and pain management in football players. The league is particularly interested in proposals on the following areas:

  • the effects of cannabinoids on pain in elite football players (post-surgical or in daily pain management);
  • the effects of non-pharmacologic treatments on pain in elite football players (postsurgical or in daily pain management); and
  • the effects of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance (for example, psychomotor, reaction time, cardiorespiratory function) in elite football players.

The deadline for applications to be submitted prior to proposals is July 31, 2021 (3).

In 2020, the joint panel held CBD informational forums. These discussions brought the determination that the nonintoxicating CBD compound, has medicinal properties in the treatment of various forms of pain. Although, the committee agreed that there was not enough existing research and information on the benefits of opioid alternatives for both chronic and acute pain.

The NFL’s policy is that players in the league will not face suspension from games based on positive test results from any substance, including cannabis. The policy was recently updated and reflects a shift in the NFL’s approach to the use of drugs by players, with the agreement highlighting the need to center on treatment and evaluation rather than penalties. Players who self-refer themselves, display behaviors indicating misuse of drugs, or test positive for drug use, are now required to enroll in an intervention program, where they can be evaluated and receive a treatment plan.

With the NFL’s new stance on supporting cannabis research, it will be exciting to see if other major sport leagues will follow suit.