NFL Player survey: Pills vs. Pot

By Jeff Nixon
Nov. 03, 2016 recently surveyed 226 NFL players, asking them questions on the state of pain treatment in the NFL and approximately two-thirds of them said they feel the use of pharmaceutical painkillers would be reduced if the league approved marijuana for the same use.

Here are the questions they asked in the survey, along with the answers:

If marijuana were an allowed substance, would fewer players take painkillers?

Yes 61 percent        No 39 percent

Should medical marijuana be legal in all states?

Yes 71 percent           No 29 percent

Have you ever known a teammate to use marijuana before a game?

Yes 22 percent           No 78 percent

Is it hard to beat the NFL's testing system for recreational drugs?

Yes 33 percent          No 67 percent

Have you ever used marijuana to help with concussion symptoms?

Yes 17 percent          No 83 percent

Have you ever had a teammate who you think became an addict because of NFL painkiller abuse?

Yes 42 percent          No 58 percent

What would you rather use if both were allowed by the NFL: Toradol or marijuana?

Toradol 57 percent           Marijuana 43 percent

Do you worry about the long-term effects of painkillers?

Yes 59 percent          No 41 percent

Which is better for recovery and pain control: marijuana or painkillers?

Marijuana 41 percent          Painkillers 32 percent           Neither 27 percent

What percentage of players do you think take painkillers on a regular basis?

Average answer 46 percent


Here’s my take on the results.

When they asked the question “What would you rather use if both were allowed by the NFL: Toradol or marijuana?”  57 percent of the players preferred Toradol and 43 percent preferred marijuana. The problem with that question is that they didn’t put it in the right context. They should have asked which substance they preferred before a game, and which substance they preferred after a game.

It’s easy to understand why most players would rather use Toradol before a game. It doesn’t get you “high” like marijuana. But it’s clear that a majority of players think marijuana is better to use after a game for recovery and pain control. 41% thought Marijuana was better - and 32% thought pharmaceutical painkillers were better.  

I conducted a poll back on April 26, 2016 where I asked former AFL and NFL players the question "Do you think Cannabis should be prescribed for "after-game" pain in NFL?"  70% of former players said yes! 

In the survey, 64% of the current players said they had taken an injection of Toradol or some other pain medication at one time or another. They thought that 46% of all players were taking painkillers on a regular basis. Almost 60% of players worry about the long-term effects of painkillers. That’s good, but it should be 100%, especially when you look at the statistical data on the prevalence of addiction to pharmaceutical painkillers and the fact that approximately 30,000 people die every year from overdoses of opiates like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.  

The players should also be concerned about the short term use of drugs like Toradol, because any drug that disguises and masks pain during the course of a game is a bad idea. Your body is trying to tell you something when it sends signals to your brain that its injured. If those signals are interrupted by a drug, then you don’t really know how much damage you’re doing to yourself.  Players (including myself) have reluctantly contributed to their own career ending injuries by taking painkilling drugs. It's hard to say no to drugs when you have younger, healthier players lining up to take your job and you have coaches and trainers that are pushing you to get back in the lineup.     

Hundreds of former players are suing the NFL over the way painkillers were dispensed in previous years. I’ve written about that here:  Former NFL Players get their day in court in new drug lawsuit against 32 teams

Just for liability purposes alone, you would think the NFL would start allowing Marijuana to be used after games - but only in the states where it is currently legal. According to the survey, 71% of the players think it should be legal in all states. Some day it will be.  But until then, the NFL should stop suspending players that test positive for marijuana.        

I’m surprised that the NFLPA hasn’t been more proactive and outspoken on this issue. They are supposed to be looking out for the welfare and safety of players. At the very least they could start promoting the use of CBD (the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) that has been patented by the U.S. Government as a “neuro-protectant.”  

The survey asked the question "Have you ever used marijuana to help with concussion symptoms" and only 17% of the players said yes. I wonder how many of the players actually know that there is a derivitive of marijuana that can help them with concussion symptoms?   

I think NFL players should be taking CBD after every game. Its a legal substance in all 50 states and both the government and private researchers have already conducted clinical trials that show its effectiveness. On top of that, it has no harmful side effects and its relatively cheap.

I’m not sure what they're waiting for, but the NFL and the NFLPA need to do something soon, or the lawsuits will continue to mount and players will continue to suffer the consequences of an old, antiquated belief system that is working against their best interests.