Earlier this month the league and the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) issued the formal request for information (RFI) via the groups’ joint Pain Management Committee (PMC).
“The NFL-NFLPA is working to improve player health through evidence-based treatment of acute and chronic pain, and to facilitate research to better understand and improve potential alternative treatments,” the groups’ formal statement says.
League not committing to funding studies
The PMC statement emphasizes that the league and the players are not committing via this process to fund any particular study. The goal is to understand what kind of studies might be possible, including looking at the following endpoints:
- The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered to be alternatives to opioids in routine pain management of NFL players. Medications may include, but are not limited to, cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (“CBD").
- The impact of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in NFL players.
- The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered adjunctive to routine post-surgical orthopedic pain management in NFL football players.
Chronic pain has been chronic issue
The PMC was formed as part of the 2019 collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players that governs the relationship for the next decade. Dealing with chronic pain both during players’ careers and in retirement has been an issue for years. A number of high profile players, including three time Most Valuable Player award winner Brett Favre, have admitted to excessive opioid pain medication use in an attempt to stay on the field and play through significant injuries. Favre, who is now retired, holds the NFL record for durability with 297 consecutive starts but paid for it by having to break an addiction to Vicodin.
Duffy MacKay, ND, chief science officer for the cannabinoid supplement producer CV Sciences, said the RFI comes in the wake of a couple of less formal information sessions with league in which his company participated.
“I did a presentation and submitted some information at one of those meetings,” MacKay told NutraIngredients-USA. “It looks like now they are moving from trying to understand what products are out there to taking a deeper dive into the science.”
MacKay said it’s his understanding that the PMC request would apply to all alternative therapies, not just botanical-based ones.
“I think if you came to them with a proposal on acupuncture they would look at it. It’s basically any non pharmaceutical intervention that has potential for adjunctive care,” MacKay said.
Wiggle room on THC makes CBD use possible
In years past the NFL had a strict policy against cannabis use and many players had been suspended for having testing positive for use of the botanical. The new collective bargaining agreement has raised the THC blood level that would trigger official league action by a factor of four and tests for THC are conducted only in the first two weeks of training camp. It’s the kind of wiggle room that has made looking at CBD a possibility, MacKay said, as even the very low levels of THC found in many compliant CBD products might have triggered positive tests for some players under the old rules.
Industry vet: NFL action could open even more doors
Marketing consultant and natural products industry veteran Steve Hoffman, who has worked on a number of CBD/hemp issues, said the information request is a sign of the times.
“It is a sign of the relaxing attitudes regarding restrictive laws and policies regarding cannabis and CBD that have been obstacles to research regarding the medicinal benefits and potential of cannabis and CBD, compared to opioids to treat pain, which can often lead to addiction and adverse health effects from overuse,” Hoffman said.
“As the NFL sees the benefits, perhaps the military will, as well. And with bills in Congress to allow CBD to be used in supplements and functional foods, and the MORE Act to legalize cannabis, along with Rand Paul’s bill to increase allowed levels of THC in hemp to 1% vs. 0.3.%, society will have access to natural, non-addictive medicines and supplements that can help in the management of pain and trauma. Plus, moves like this support science, and much more research is needed into the benefits of cannabis and hemp, which is something that was prohibited when these plants were considered illegal,” he added.