Nausea. Vomiting. Constipation. Dry mouth. Mood swings. Blurred vision. Dizziness. Ringing in your ears. Anxiety. Difficulty urinating. This isn’t a Pepto Bismol commercial. Those are just a handful of the common side effects of Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin, which are the three most commonly prescribed painkillers in professional sports. These drugs can also induce apnea (a temporary cessation of breathing), hypotension (low blood pressure), and seizures or convulsions. Adding to the dangers, they are easy to overdose on, can be deadly when mixed with alcohol, and are extremely addictive.
There are numerous examples of professional athletes having their careers and/or lives ruined by painkillers. You can turn to the tragic death of Derek Boogaard, or Brett Favre nearly losing his professional football career well before he was a household name.
Why do professional athletes deal with all these immensely concerning side effects? So they can play the games they love.
Most professional careers are extremely short. There’s always someone younger and faster sneaking up behind you on the depth chart. Athletes are aware that they need to be on the field, floor, ice (or whatever surface their game is played on) if they’re going to remain employed. Missing one game or even one practice opens up the possibility of being Wally Pipped. So players do whatever it takes to play, while team doctors take a far too relaxed approach to handing out prescription painkillers.
If only there were a safer option, perhaps a naturally grown plant that could help an individual cope with the bodily pain that results from repeated high-speed collisions. What an innovation that would be.
I’ll cut the sarcasm. Cannabis is now commonly used for medicinal purposes, especially by those who suffer from chronic pain. The public acceptance of marijuana is also rapidly increasing, as more and more states legalize even recreational use. Now that Joe in Colorado can toke up whenever he pleases, why aren’t the warriors we pit against each other in violent battle for our entertainment afforded the same right?
In spite of cannabis not being a performance-enhancing drug, it is banned in nearly all major sports leagues. Why? Politics and optics. We mustn’t have our children’s role models using marijuana, even if it’s the safest method to heal their bodies.
Instead, the leagues would prefer that kids see their idols being arrested for possession of a controlled substance and destroying themselves by ingesting Vicodin like they’re Skittles.
The health risks involved in cannabis-use are far less severe than long-term use of Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin. (No death from a marijuana overdose has ever been reported!) When will these billion-dollar sports leagues start doing what’s right for the individuals who make them all that money?
Though it may be quite some time before any major sports league is striking an advertising deal with a marijuana grower, it shouldn’t be too long before cannabis replaces Vicodin as the new go-to painkiller in all major sports leagues. And once it’s available for pain management, it’ll be awfully difficult for anyone to be punished for recreational use – rejoice, Josh Gordon.
Let’s have a look at how soon that may be.
Football is the most violent sport of them all, with collisions being compared to high-speed car crashes. Countless players struggle to sleep the night following a game because their bodies ache so much. There are several cases of players not even being able to walk on Monday, but suiting up and doing it all again when Sunday rolls around. If there’s a sport that needs cannabis the most, it’s football. Expect the NFL to be the trendsetters on the matter.
The current collective bargaining agreement prohibits the use of marijuana for any purpose. However, that CBA expires in 2020 and more and more players, both current and former, have shared horror stories of painkillers prescribed to them by team doctors, while being vocal about their support for cannabis. Perhaps the most powerful voice comes from Cowboys owner (and president, and general manager), and new inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jerry Jones, who believes the league should drop its prohibition.
With a new CBA on the horizon, you can bet the National Football League Players Association, with the backing of many owners, will fight hard for the safety of its players. Don’t be surprised if changes are made even before the current agreement expires.
Odds the NFL drops its prohibition on cannabis in the next ten years: 1/3
Over/under when the NFL drops its prohibition on cannabis: 2020.5
Of the “Big Four” sports leagues in North America, the National Hockey League is the most liberal when it comes to cannabis. The NHL only tests one-third of its players each season for “street drugs,” and if a player does test positive for cannabis, the punishment can be as minimal as a referral to a substance-abuse program. But that doesn’t mean team doctors are prescribing it yet.
Even after the NFL changes its ways, the NHL may just continue its stance of turning a blind eye to it.
Odds NHL team doctors begin prescribing cannabis to players in the next ten years: 1/2
Though basketball may not have the same collisions as football or hockey, injuries are still a part of the game. Not to mention, all the running and jumping on the hardwood is very hard on your knees, hips, and back over time. If LeBron James’ back is sore after playing 40 minutes that night, why shouldn’t he be able to have a couple puffs to help him sleep and recover for the next game in less than 24 hours?
Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, recently shared his experience with cannabis to treat his chronic back pain. Although it may not have helped him, Kerr has become a supporter of marijuana, noting that it’s way less harmful than the other painkillers he has been prescribed.
Kerr isn’t the only member of the NBA advocating for cannabis, as many players have lobbied for the league to remove the drug from its list of banned substances. I do expect a little more push-back from the league here, as the sport doesn’t involve nearly as much bodily harm as football and hockey. But they will come around.
Odds the NBA removes cannabis from its banned substances list in the next ten years: 4/5
Just like the NBA, the MLB rarely sees collisions anymore, and the demand for medicinal marijuana is much smaller than in football or hockey. The MLB does take more of an NHL approach on the drug, though, as players are not routinely subjected to testing for cannabis. The league may decide to test a player if they have reasonable belief that the individual may be using cannabis, but the discipline comes in the form of a small fine.
However, marijuana is included in the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, where a fourth positive test results in a permanent ban. Minor league players are not a part of the MLB Players Association, and therefore cannot be protected by it. This creates a serious issue that may only be resolved by the federal government fully legalizing recreational marijuana use.
With the growing popularity of marijuana, the league may alter its punishments for minor league players, making them slightly less harsh.
Odds sanctions against minor league players are softened in the next ten years: 1/1
Photo credit: public domain.
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