Are the tides changing in sports medicine? We sure hope so. In recent news, the NFL awarded $1 million in research funding towards investigating the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussions in football players.

The funds have gone to medical research teams at the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina. According to statements provided by the teams, this clinical study will assess the effectiveness of cannabis/hemp-based cannabinoids such as CBD and THC in treating sports-related injuries. The research will also determine whether they are safe and effective substitutes for the prescription use of medications like opioids. *cue touchdown dance*

Aside from the benefits of these substances for pain management, this project will hopefully provide a foundation for understanding the neuroprotective properties cannabinoids have on reducing the severity of acute and chronic concussion in professional football players.

Photo by football wife/

Photo by football wife/

History Time

Until 2020, the NFL had a clear stance on its position towards players and their use of cannabis (hint: not a supportive one). Strict rules were in place, and players who tested positive faced a series of consequences such as a referral to a substance abuse program, game–check fines, and eventually suspension for several games or an entire year.

On top of that, NFL athletes were hit with public backlash for their connection to cannabis use despite their declarations of its benefits for their physical and mental well-being. Former NFL players Ricky Williams, Eugene Monroe, Jake Plummer, and Kyle Turley are among those that have been the biggest cannabis advocates in sports and have pushed for marijuana legalization and its uses for pain management.

The current collective bargaining agreement, which details the rules and regulations the league and players must uphold, loosened restrictions on testing positive for THC and eliminated suspension as a form of punishment. Players still receive game check fines if over 150 nanograms (as opposed to 35 nanograms) are found in their system during the regular season.

Though the years of cannabis-related controversy seem to be moving further and further behind us, it’s important to remember those pioneering voices of advocacy in sports medicine.

If we squint into our crystal ball, what could we see? Well…

Dr. Rob Pomahac, another former professional athlete, detailed why CBD has remained a part of his fitness routine and attributes several of its benefits to his overall health and physical maintenance. CBD promotes the body’s natural ability to deal with physical, chemical, or biological needs in times of imbalance, and according to Dr. Pomahac, CBD helps them [Athletes] better adapt to their training. What happens to you following a hard workout: your body temperature and cortisol levels rise; muscle proteins break down and stored sugar in the form of glycogen gets depleted. Sensing this stress, the body begins to produce greater amounts of endocannabinoids to deal with the recovery process.

So, what does this mean? That more professional athletes hoping to overcome stress-induced limitations could find a solution by introducing CBD into their routines?

Cannabis and the Brain

A concussion is a type of brain injury caused by a blow, bump, or jolt to the head/body that results in the brain shaking and moving rapidly within the skull. We see players crashing into each other all the time while watching football. In 2021, the NFL recorded 187 concussions total during the pre and regular seasons; the number of concussions received by players since 2015 is nearly 1,600.

Pharmaceutical medications can treat the symptoms of concussions such as headaches, nausea, anxiety, and trouble sleeping; however, cannabis and CBD provide a holistic, non-toxic alternative with a potentially smaller list of side effects.

Bright Side 

With the study of the relationship between cannabis/hemp-based cannabinoids and the central nervous system still in effect, the combination of CBD and brain health have the potential to be complementary and therapeutic. While the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina conduct their studies, there is hope that cannabis and its ability to reduce or remove the impact of inflammation, oxygen buildup, and brain cell decline will lead to a breakthrough toward treating chronic concussion. *cue another touchdown dance*

Gabrielle Colón is a freelance writer. She enjoys theater, dramatic television, and fantasy novels.