Harvard Professor Calls on NFL to Stop Drug Testing Players for Cannabis, Study its Use for Treating Concussions
Harvard professor emeritus Dr. Lester Grinspoon – author of “Marihuana Reconsidered” – has published an open-letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging him to allow the use of cannabis for treating concussions (or to at least study the issue), and to “immediately stop subjecting players to drug tests for marijuana”.
“As both a medical doctor and one of millions of fans who enjoy professional football as a spectator sport, I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the growing specter that many of the athletes I cheer from the sidelines will one day pay the steep price of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) due to concussions and other repetitive brain injuries incurred in the course of their profession”, begins Dr. Grinspoon’s letter.
“Already the NFL has offered former players $765 million to settle a lawsuit charging your organization with knowingly concealing a link between traumatic brain injury and pro football, an agreement later struck down by a judge who feared that sizable payout could actually prove far too small to adequately cover all current and future cases of CTE. So it’s not hard to imagine the NFL’s liability eventually growing to well more than a billion dollars, a staggering figure that nonetheless pales in comparison to the human toll paid in terms of pain, suffering, and untimely death among former players.”
He continues; “To your credit, you recently showed a willingness to explore all possible means of alleviating the frequency and severity of CTE cases in the NFL, including the controversial idea that compounds found in marijuana could play a vital role in protecting player’s brains. Asked about that very possibility, you said: “I’m not a medical expert, [but] we will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that.”
“Given the severity of the problem, however, I think you, and the NFL, must go beyond simply following the medicine, and help lead the way by directly funding research to determine if cannabis—including preparations with no psychoactive effects, such as those with a high-cannabidiol (CBD) to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) ratio—can indeed provide significant protection against the damage of repetitive concussions.”
Dr. Grinspoon notes that; “Already, many doctors and researchers believe that marijuana has incredibly powerful neuroprotective properties, an understanding based on both laboratory and clinical data. But unfortunately, the extensive research required to definitively determine cannabis’s ability to prevent CTE will require millions of dollars in upfront investment, and despite the great promise many now see in cannabinopathic medicine, it’s hard to imagine who else has both the motive and the means to provide such funding.”
Dr. Grinspoon points out that typically pharmacutical companies or the U.S. government would be the ones to do such research, but given that the plant can’t be patented, and the U.S. government still has a huge stake in prohibition, its unlikely that either will do any serious research on cannabis and concussions anytime in the near future.
However, according to Dr. Grinspoon; “Fortunately, the NFL’s pockets are plenty deep enough to launch a serious, intensive research program designed to determine whether or not some combination of cannabinoids is effective in preventing the consequences of concussions. This would not only be a great public service, it’s in the league’s own financial self-interest. Especially since so few other promising options exist for alleviating the problem.”
Dr. Grinspoon ends his letter by saying; “We must explore the potential for internal protection of the brain. This research will not be quick or inexpensive, but it must happen. In the meantime, I implore you to immediately stop subjecting players to drug tests for marijuana, so they no longer face severe penalties for choosing a potentially life-saving medicine that can be used legally in twenty states.”