Super Bowl Champ: CBD Can Solve NFL's Opioid Problem

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP/REX/Shutterstock
June 26, 2018

By Jacqueline Corba

CBD has the potential to combat two of the biggest health issues plaguing former NFL athletes: CTE and opioid abuse.

That's according to former NFL player and Super Bowl champion Marvin Washington, who is calling on the league to introduce a medical marijuana program.

"If we don't get our hands around this opioid addiction, we are going to lose a generation," Washington told Cheddar's CannaBiz Tuesday. "I believe CBD is a neural protectant for the brain and, as pain management, will go a long way in stopping this epidemic that we have."

Former NFL players trying to manage chronic pain use opioid drugs in retirement four times more than the general population, according to a 2011 study. Cannabis could be a potential substitute. There's also new evidence it could help the treatment of CTE, a degenerative disease linked to repetitive brain trauma.

Washington's calls for action come even as broad medical marijuana research faces hurdles. Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act, putting it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

And while 29 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical use of the substance, the Food and Drug Administration had only approved two treatments made from synthetic versions of marijuana ingredients.

That changed this week when the agency granted its first approval to a medication that contains a pure derivative of cannabis. Epidiolex, a CBD oral solution manufactured by the UK's GW Pharmaceuticals, can now be used to treat two severe and rare forms of epilepsy.

"This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Monday.

The FDA will review more applications for CBD treatments, and Gottlieb said the agency will continue to support research on other potential medical uses for marijuana-derived products.

That could open up a big door.

"Due to federal illegality there hasn't been a lot of substantive research in this area," legal expert Lauren Estevez told Cheddar Tuesday. "So this is something that can be really unpacked over the next few years."

CBD, a chemical component of the Cannabis sativa plant, is legal in the states that have approved medical or recreational marijuana, and there's also some form of legalized CBD in seventeen other states.

Washington, who competed in the NFL for 11 years and won his Super Bowl ring, perhaps appropriately, with the Denver Broncos in 1999, predicts the league will introduce a sensible medical cannabis program in 2020 when the Collective Bargain Agreement is up.

"I think this is going to be player-driven, this is going to be a grass roots type of movement to get cannabis, hemp, and CBD, and all the medicinal benefits of this plan into the NFL," said Washington.

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