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NFL to study use of marijuana for pain management

The NFL and NFLPA on Monday announced two joint agreements to study better practices to support NFL players' health on a physical and mental level. The two committees will be named the Joint Pain Management Committee and the Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, which will be comprised of team physicians, trainers, behavioral clinicians, pain management specialists and other experts in the field.

Marijuana is not mentioned by name in the NFL's announcements, instead only alluded to as "alternative therapies." But an interview NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills did with the Washington Post stated explicitly that NFL-approved use of marijuana for pain management is now on the table, though it is not the only angle being studied from a pain management angle.

“We’re asking our pain management committee to bring us any and all suggestions,” Sills told the paper. “We’ll look at marijuana.”

The wind has been blowing in this direction for years. Numerous players have advocated that the NFL relax its restrictions around pot, and Roger Goodell said the league would consider allowing it if it's established as valid by the medical community.

“How do you make sure that you address any potential addiction issue? Because I’ve read the literature on both sides,” Smith said. “How do you deal with the fact that some people are using it purely recreationally and pivoting it to … people who are using it medicinally either as a pain eradicator or a stress-coping mechanism? So what we’ve decided to do is, to the best we can, look at it as related but nonetheless separate issues. Do I expect in the near future we are going to be presenting something to our board on the first issue? Yes.”

Any changes would have to be written into the collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2020 season.

League insiders have long expected marijuana to be a bargaining chip in the next round of CBA talks, likely in exchange for a concession for more money or more practice time from the players.

Additionally, the NFL announced all 32 teams must hire a pain management specialist before the start of the 2019 season.

See the full announcement below:

The NFL and NFL Players Association today announced two joint agreements that will support further resources directed to address pain management and behavioral health. First, the NFL and NFLPA will work together to address the challenges of pain management for our current players and work to advance and understand the science in this area to improve potential treatments. The second agreement builds on the substantial player behavioral and mental health care resources available to NFL players with additional programs directed toward education, prevention, and overall behavioral health throughout the league.

Prescription Medication and Pain Management

The NFL and NFLPA will form a Joint Pain Management Committee including medical experts appointed by both the league and union,which will establish uniform standards for club practices and policies regarding pain management and the use of prescription medication by NFL players as well as conduct research concerning pain management and alternative therapies. The Joint Committee will also receive periodic reports from a newly-developed Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that will monitor all prescriptions issued to NFL players by club physicians and unaffiliated physicians. Prior to the start of the 2019 NFL Season, each NFL club must appoint a Pain Management Specialist who possesses certain agreed-upon credentials, including active engagement in pain management as part of his or her medical practice.

Behavioral and Mental Health Care

The NFL and NFLPA will form a Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee,which will develop educational programs for players, coaches, club personnel and players' family members regarding mental health and wellness. Additionally, the Committee will collaborate with local and national mental health and suicide prevention organizations to reduce stigma related to mental health and promote suicide prevention and awareness. The NFL and NFLPA will also now formally mandate that each team retains a Behavioral Health Team Clinician focused on supporting players' emotional and mental health and well-being. Each Team Clinician must possess certain minimum qualifications and be retained and jointly approved by the NFL and NFLPA by the start of Training Camp for the 2019 season. The Team Clinician is required to be available to players at the team facility for at least 8-12 hours per week, and must, among other responsibilities, conduct mandatory mental health educational sessions for players and coaching staff. The Clinician must also create and conduct team rehearsals of a Mental Health Emergency Action Plan to implement for the upcoming season.

This summer, the NFL and NFLPA will convene sessions with head team physicians, head team internal medicine physicians, head athletic trainers, Behavioral HealthTeam Clinicians, Pain Management Specialists, and others to discuss the requirements in both agreements, among other topics. Adherence to both agreements is mandatory across all clubs.

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