The NFL Should Allow Marijuana As a Painkiller

The league has an abuse problem with narcotics and with Toradol. Marijuana could be an off-ramp. Also: GM, GHWB, and GA football folds.

Increasingly, marijuana is acceptable in American society. Several states have decriminalized weed. In last month’s voting, pro-marijuana referendums prevailed in three of four states, winning in Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, and losing only in North Dakota. More access to marijuana inevitably will lead to more weed abuse, but also may lead to less opioid abuse, less drunken driving, and less crime. States are becoming sufficiently friendly to reefer—the soft drink of the drug kingdom—that retailers are taxed and marijuana tourism is blossoming.

Meanwhile there is a public health crisis of addiction to opioids and of hard-drug overdose deaths. For several years running, a U.S. law enforcement officer has been more likely to be summoned to the scene of an overdose fatality than the scene of a homicide. The reefer-madness harm that marijuana was supposed to trigger has never occurred; the harm caused by narcotic painkillers is all too real. Last week the Centers for Disease Control reported that American longevity, which has been rising like an escalator for decades, declined slightly for the second consecutive year, with painkiller deaths a leading factor.

Here’s where these things intersect with football.

America has an abuse problem with OxyContin and oxycodone. The NFL, America’s king of sports, has a painkiller abuse problem with narcotics and with Toradol, often injected in the training room. The NFL aspires to be a leader institution. The league should lead by allowing players to use marijuana for pain alleviation, offering an example of getting off the hard stuff in exchange for smoking a plant.

Oxy-class painkillers are not bad, in and of themselves. Before their distribution became common roughly 20 years ago, pain was under-medicated for many people. If confined to short-term dosage—after surgery, an injury or a tooth extraction—oxy-class painkillers can be a godsend. But prescription pain drugs are now overused, resulting in a fivefold increase in painkiller deaths since 1999.

Marijuana has downsides—only the naïve pretend otherwise. But pot overdose deaths are very rare compared to overdose deaths from lawfully obtained narcotic painkillers. It’s possible to become habituated to marijuana but addiction is unusual. Addiction to oxy-class drugs is a big risk and insidious, since withdrawal can be awful.

Marijuana does not alleviate pain for everyone, but for many it does. Cancer victims have long sought cannabis for humane use. If football players and others who need to palliate pain could choose marijuana rather than narcotics, narcotic abuse would all but surely diminish.

For persons with chronic pain—there are millions in this category—marijuana makes more sense than narcotics that dull the senses and have profoundly negative side effects. For persons with short-term acute pain, such as athletes after competition, marijuana can be better than substances derived from the same chemical family as heroin. Weed can substitute for powerful chemicals for other conditions, too, such as being an alternative to Azilect for Parkinson’s.

The NFL Players Association supports lawful use of marijuana for pain palliation. The NFL doesn’t allow this (even in states where weed is legal), though it has promised to study the issue. Nothing has come of the study so far.

The NFL thinks it’s fine to pop painkillers and be injected with Toradol, but marijuana is not fine. Apparently the NFL’s concern is public relations. This, from a league that’s been covering up domestic violence by players, and in November dressed coaches who have never served in the military in outfits that look like combat uniforms—the goal was stolen glory—while waiving a quarterback who respectfully knelt during the Star Spangled Banner.

As marijuana legality spreads, painkiller abuse statistics should moderate. Wouldn’t it be nice if the king of sports played a leader role in this transition? Time for the NFL to allow weed use for pain while forbidding use of Toradol and narcotic painkillers except when medically necessary. That would set the right example.

In other football news, Georgia led number-one-ranked defending champion Alabama 28-14 late in the third quarter. When the Bulldogs lined up to punt on 4th-and-inches, Tuesday Morning Quarterback wrote “game over” in his notebook. It took the Crimson Tide just four snaps to pass the point where the ball would have been spotted, had Georgia gone for it and failed.

From the moment the Preposterous Punt boomed, Alabama outscored Georgia 21-0. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart sent his players the message that he was so frightened of Alabama, he was afraid to try to gain a couple of inches—even knowing that the last time Georgia and Alabama met, the Bulldogs did not score in the fourth quarter. As they would again not score in the fourth quarter. Everything was going Georgia’s way until the Preposterous Punt.

Reaching panic time, Georgia would try on 4th-and-11. The 4th-and-11 attempt was likely to fail, and it did. Yet when 4th-and-inches was available, and likely to succeed—Georgia averaged 5.7 yards per offensive snap on the night— Georgia did the “safe” thing and sent out the punter.

Sure, the 4th-and-inches came on the Georgia 12. But the Bulldogs were playing by far the best squad in college football over the past decade.

Had Georgia gone for it on 4th-and-inches from its own 12 while holding the lead, and failed, Smart would have been ridiculed by the sportsyak world—and by the Georgia boosters who are, in effect, his employers. Instead he did the “safe” thing, handing the ball, and the momentum, to Alabama. You can’t dance with the champ, you’ve to knock him down! Georgia had the champ reeling on the ropes and instead of attempting to knock him down, launched a punt.