Are NFL officials just paying lip service on CBD research?


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COLORADO SPRINGS — Former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer hoped his phone would ring. He hoped the NFL would take notice of research studies on cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in cannabis that has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties. He hoped the league would initiate a discussion about the studies that he has pushed for and that Eugene Monroe, an offensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens, has helped to fund.

The hope turned into reality the morning of June 2. Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of player health and safety, and Russell Lonser, a neurological surgeon and a member of the league’s head, neck and spine committee, sat in on a conference call with Monroe, Plummer and the lead researchers on the CBD studies, Dr. Ryan Vandrey and Dr. Marcel Bonn-Miller. For nearly an hour they spoke, and the dialogue was deemed a positive step. But no real plan was set forward and discussion was limited because of the collective bargaining agreement, which lists marijuana among the NFL’s banned substances. (CBD has only trace levels of THC, the component of marijuana that gets users high, but any amount puts players at risk of testing above the league’s 35 ng/ml.)

GAME OF PAIN: Why NFL players are pushing for CBD studies

“It was progress, but progress isn’t enough,” said Monroe, who took part in the Realm of Caring‘s third annual golf tournament at Air Force Academy’s Eisenhower Golf Course. “We need our league to move swiftly and progressively in removing our cannabis-testing policies. Players shouldn’t be punished for consuming a medicine that’s available to half our country … and can be vital to saving our players’ lives and protecting our health and wellness.”

“When the Bright Lights Fade” launched to raise money for the initial studies — led by Vandrey at Johns Hopkins University and Bonn-Miller at the University of Pennsylvania — on CBD’s potential efficacy in treating pain and even chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to former NFL players and others with histories of repeated head trauma. The campaign, led by Colorado hemp producer CW Botanicals and its partnering nonprofit Realm of Caring, received the backing of Plummer, Monroe and nearly half a dozen other retired players. Monroe even donated $80,000 of his own money to the fund the studies.

Ryan Kingsbury, the chief communications officer for CW Botanicals, said the pilot studies, which are essentially data collections of current and former players’ CBD use and injury history, will soon move to the anonymous interview process with players.

The hope is the data, combined with greater awareness and additional funding, will spur more expansive clinical studies on CBD’s efficacy as a pain reliever and potential treatment for CTE. The initial discussion with NFL officials was deemed an integral step in gaining the league’s attention and, eventually, getting its approval for use. But Monroe isn’t satisfied.

“I’m not encouraged. I’ll be encouraged once our policies change and our players have access to healing themselves in a healthier way,” he said.

“I do hope that the NFL recognizes this being a serious subject. I’ve seen recently there was news they changed the rules on players wearing hoodies on the field. We have time for that, but not time to take care of our players’ health and longevity? We need to prioritize our healthcare and reform our policies.”

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