Baltimore Ravens lineman Eugene Monroe recently took a career risk in becoming the first active player to publicly call for the NFL and NFLPA to remove the ban on medical marijuana and permit its use for chronic pain treatment. Based on much research, Monroe believes this move will reduce the league’s glaring reliance on addictive opioid pills. He also wants the NFL to sponsor further research into the potential for cannabis to prevent or treat concussions. He even donated $80,000 to researchers at University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins looking into marijuana use in professional football players.
“To this point, I understand why no one but me as an active player has said anything about it,” Monroe told the Washington Post. “It’s a banned substance in our league. Speaking about it can honestly ruin someone’s career if the wrong team gets wind of it and has adverse opinions on it. But my health is more important than the opinion of someone who could be my employer now or my future employer. …There’s enough anecdotal evidence already to say, ‘Hey listen, we know it’s not toxic. We know it’s safer than what we’re already doing.’ ”
Monroe has at least one ally in Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy. Like most players he has used such pills at the recommendation of team doctors in the past, but his mindset has changed when it comes to dealing with injuries and chronic pain.
“I stay away from pills,” Levy recently told the Detroit Free Press, “It’s too easy to prescribe. Painkillers. Toradol. It’s just putting a Band-Aid on something, but we’re potentially developing a bigger issue for players when they’re done.”
The league at least seems ready to listen.
Senior Vice President for Player Health and Safety Jeff Miller, and neurological surgeon and NFL head, neck and spine committee member Russell Lonser recently spoke with the researchers Monroe has funded to learn more about their study. While not yet endorsing Monroe’s stance, the league officials requested the talk and were eager to hear more about it.
“They are interested in learning more about the potential for cannabinoids to help current and former players, as is evidenced by them taking the call, and also expressed a desire to learn more,” said Marcel Bonn-Miller, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania school of medicine. “They are definitely showing genuine curiosity, and they are definitely not throwing up roadblocks.”
America’s views on marijuana continue to shift as the country’s opioid crisis grows more dire.
With more expected by year’s end, legislation in twenty-five states, most recently Ohio’s H.B. 523, plus that in the District of Columbia has legalized medical marijuana. Four states and the District have fully legalized all use. Meanwhile, overdoses related to prescription pain medication continue to rise, and even more drastically when heroin overdoses are factored in.
Prescription painkillers can lead to heroin use.
“I think it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Levy said. “I know players, former, current and it was a time where it was very, very easy to get as many painkillers as you needed, as many sleeping pills as you needed. And if we’re talking about the health of our players, past their playing career, I think it’s definitely something that needs to at least be acknowledged and something looked into as there’s a lot of viable and growing body of research supporting it.”
Levy has also been outspoken on a number of social issues, penning an essay on sexual assault and the objectification of women.
It’s good to see these two players willing to go out on a limb for their principles, and possibly facilitate a major change for the better.