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NFL awards $1 million for research into cannabis and CBD for pain

The funding will support two studies into pain management and preventing brain injury.



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Home » Health » Pain » NFL awards $1 million for research into cannabis and CBD for pain

The NFL has announced US$1 million to fund research into cannabis and CBD for pain management and brain injury.

US National Football League (NFL) is offering $1 million into research to examine the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in elite football.

The funding has been awarded by the NFLNFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC), which aims to support research into alternative pain management treatments for NFL players. 

The studies will be carried out by two teams of medical researchers at the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina

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Cannabinoids and injury pain

The first study will focus on the effects of cannabinoids on pain and recovery from sports-related injuries in elite athletes. It will be led by Drs Thomas Marcotte and Mark Wallace at the University of California San Diego.

The clinical trial will assess the therapeutic efficacy and adverse effects of ∆-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and combined THC/CBD compared to a placebo for post-competition soft-tissue injury pain in elite athletes.

The athletes will be given vaporised treatments after sustaining game-related injuries and the results will be monitored through an app.

Cannabinoids and brain injury pain

The second study will focus on naturally produced cannabinoids for pain management and neuroprotection from concussion and participation in contact sports. It will be led by Dr J. Patrick Neary and researchers at The University of Regina. The formulations for the NFL study will be provided by My Next Health. The US company is also contributing $400,000 to the medical research team. 

Dr Richard Heinzl,  chief executive officer of My Next Health said: “We are very excited to work under Dr Neary’s exceptional leadership and interdisciplinary team to improve the lives of all of those who suffer from the effects related to concussions including chronic pain. We commend the National Football League for providing funding to this most important research endeavour.”

The study will aim to determine if THC or CBD can be used safely for pain management and to reduce the use of opioid medication in post-concussion syndrome athletes. Additionally, it will assess the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids to reduce the severity of acute and chronic concussion in football players.

There were 106 research proposals submitted to the committee after the initiative was launched by the PMC in June 2021. The NFL Research and Innovation Committee reduced the list to ten finalists who were invited to give an oral presentation and submit written proposals.

Dr Allen Sills, NFL chief medical officer, said: “As with the league’s broader approach to health and safety, we want to ensure that our players are receiving care that reflects the most up-to-date medical consensus. While the burden of proof is high for NFL players who want to understand the impact of any medical decision on their performance, we are grateful that we have the opportunity to fund these scientifically-sound studies on the use of cannabinoids that may lead to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact the pain management of our players.”

Dr Mark Wallace, the co-principal investigator and director of the Center for Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health, added: “Our team is excited to receive this funding to conduct a systematic, ‘real-world, real-time’ study with professional athletes, and which should shed further light upon the many anecdotal reports that cannabis is helpful in reducing post-competition pain.”

American football injuries

A high-impact sport, American football players are at risk for different injuries such as sprains, quad or hamstring strains, wrist or hand injuries, shoulder dislocations and concussion. Despite its popularity, doctors have only just started to research the link between the sport, concussions and players’ health.

The first former NFL player was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the early 2000s. It is estimated that more than 100 NFL players have received a postmortem diagnosis of CTE.

CTE is not caused by one concussion but a sustained series of hits over time. Even low impact hits which may not appear severe can contribute to its development. It has also been found in boxers or other athletes in high-impact contact sports. Symptoms can include memory loss, confusion, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicide ideation and Parkinson’s disease.


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