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January 25, 2014



The NFL is desperately trying to answer the problem of head injuries in the game today and as of Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will explore all avenues available to allow active players to use pot to help treat concussions. 

Goodell told a group in New York, “I am not a medical expert. We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine. And if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that.  Our medical experts are not saying that right now.” 

There are two states, Colorado and Washington, where pot is legal for “recreational use.”  There are 20 states where pot is legal for medicinal purposes.  

One must wonder what kind of message this is sending if the NFL allows marijuana into the league?   I understand players are looking for a way to ease the pain of concussions and head injuries, but are we seriously going to head in this direction? 

Can you imagine the Pandora’s Box this may open?  We already have information from HBO’s Real Sports program that upwards of 60% of NFL players already smoke pot on a regular basis.  They are claiming they use to ease the pain of playing football. 

It is no mystery marijuana use is addictive if used on a long term basis.  The Center for Disease Control says: Long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction; that is, people have difficulty controlling their drug use and cannot stop even though it interferes with many aspects of their lives. It is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it. The number goes up to about 1 in 6 in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 25-50 percent among daily users. Moreover, a study of over 300 fraternal and identical twin pairs found that the twin who had used marijuana before the age of 17 had elevated rates of other drug use and drug problems later on, compared with their twin who did not use before age 17. 

According to the 2010 NSDUH, marijuana accounted for 4.5 million of the estimated 7.1 million Americans dependent on or abusing illicit drugs.  In 2009, approximately 18 percent of people aged 12 and older entering drug abuse treatment programs reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse; 61 percent of persons under 15 reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse.

Marijuana addiction is also linked to a withdrawal syndrome similar to that of nicotine withdrawal, which can make it hard to quit. People trying to quit report irritability, sleeping difficulties, craving, and anxiety. They also show increased aggression on psychological tests, peaking approximately 1 week after they last used the drug.

We also know marijuana will affect the brain if used over a long period of time. Again, according to the Center for Disease Control: Marijuana use impairs a person's ability to form new memories and to shift focus. THC also disrupts coordination and balance by binding to receptors in the cerebellum and basal ganglia—parts of the brain that regulate balance, posture, coordination, and reaction time. Therefore, learning, doing complicated tasks, participating in athletics, and driving are also affected.

Marijuana users who have taken large doses of the drug may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity. Short-term psychotic reactions to high concentrations of THC are distinct from longer-lasting, schizophrenia-like disorders that have been associated with the use of cannabis in vulnerable individuals. Our understanding of marijuana's long-term brain effects is limited. Research findings on how chronic cannabis use affects brain structure, for example, have been inconsistent. It may be that the effects are too subtle for reliable detection by current techniques. A similar challenge arises in studies of the effects of chronic marijuana use on brain function. Although imaging studies (functional MRI; fMRI) in chronic users do show some consistent alterations, the relation of these changes to cognitive functioning is less clear. This uncertainty may stem from confounding factors such as other drug use, residual drug effects (which can occur for at least 24 hours in chronic users), or withdrawal symptoms in long-term chronic users. 

I am not against players finding some sort of relief from their pain of playing football but with all the evidence of the long range harmful effects, I can’t believe the NFL would want to go down this road.  What happens if a player is allowed to use marijuana during his playing days and gets addicted?  He retires from the NFL and just can’t kick the habit.  Can he come back years later and sue the league for allowing pot to be used that eventually made him addicted or hurt his health in other ways? 

The NFL better make sure they have covered all their bases and much more before they dive into this issue or the league may go up in smoke.

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