The NFL is again flirting with changing its policy on cannabis—but for the first time, it seems to be putting its money where its mouth is. The league has reportedly written to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) offering to work together to study the cannabis as a potential pain management tool for players.
The NFLPA, which is currently conducting its own study into medical cannabis as treatment for players, has yet to respond to the letter sent by the league.
“We look forward to working with the players’ association on all issues involving the health and safety of our players,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications, told the Washington Post, which first reported the news on Tuesday.
Lockhart’s comments seem to conflict with what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show in late April. At the time, Goodell said the league sees no medical benefits to cannabis, adding that “it may not be healthy for the players long-term.”
“We’ve been studying that through our advisors,” Goodell told Mike & Mike. “To date, they haven’t said, ‘This is a change we think you should make that is in the best interest of the health and safety of our players.’ If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”
Goodell did add, however, that “medical marijuana is something that is evolving, and that’s something that at some point the medical advisors may come to us and say, ‘This is something you should consider.’”
For the league, that message may have come in the form of an earth-shattering report that speaks to the dangers football poses to brain health. Of 111 deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to science and studied, 110 were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a dengenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.
Some have pointed to CBD, a cannabinoid with neuroprotectant properties, as a possible treatment for brain injury or even for use as a prophylactic.
Following the publication of the study, Goodell announced that the NFL and would end its brain research partnership with the National Institute of Health. in the media, he seemed to downplay the study’s findings that playing football damages many players’ brains.
“The average NFL player lives five years longer than you,” Goodell told reporters. “So their lifespan is actually longer and healthier. And I think because of all the advancements, including the medical care, that number is going to even increase for them.”
NFL players currently are tested for cannabis and face potential discipline if they fail the screenings. The tests, however, are relatively easy to pass according to what former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe told Leafly last fall.
“That is actually one of the things that the NFL’s drug testing program does kind of have going for it,” he told Leafly. “If you get caught smoking weed, then you probably have a problem. You know exactly when the test is coming. The league’s testing [period] starts — ironically enough — on April 20. Then the testing window extends all the way through training camp.”
The NFL in 2014 modified its drug policy regarding cannabis, increasing the threshold for what constituted a positive test. Before 2014, the threshold level was at 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of urine or blood. The change doubled that amount, upping it to 30 nanograms.
The NFL and NFLPA likely would have to wait until their next collective bargaining agreement to get a deal done around medical cannabis. The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in 2020.