Player Health and Safety
Researchers from University of California San Diego and University of Regina to conduct innovative research studies evaluating the effects of cannabinoids on athletic pain management and performance
NEW YORK, February 1, 2022 – The National Football League today announced the award of $1 million in research funding to two teams of medical researchers at the University of California San Diego and University of Regina. The studies will investigate the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection from concussion in elite football players, respectively.
These awards conclude the first request for research proposals executed by the NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee (PMC), which aims to facilitate research to better understand and improve potential alternative pain management treatments for NFL players. Initiated by the PMC in June 2021, the call for proposals resulted in 106 submissions. Using the National Institutes of Health (NIH) format for scoring proposals, the NFL Research and Innovation Committee then narrowed the finalists to ten proposals to give oral presentations and provide written materials to the Committee.
The NFL has awarded a total of $1 million to:
1. "Effects of Cannabinoids on Pain and Recovery from Sports-Related Injuries in Elite Athletes: A Randomized Clinical Trial" led by Drs. Thomas Marcotte and Mark Wallace, with colleagues at the University of California San Diego.
The primary aim of this clinical trial is to assess the therapeutic efficacy and adverse effects of ∆-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and combined THC/CBD, compared to placebo, for relief of post-competition soft-tissue injury pain in elite athletes. Elite athletes will vaporize treatments following game-related injuries, with outcomes monitored via remote phone apps. Bringing together a research team with decades of clinical cannabis research experience and an infrastructure provided by the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (cmcr.ucsd.edu), the findings from this study will provide key, preliminary data regarding the possible effectiveness of cannabinoids for sports-related injuries and inform future larger studies regarding study design and implementation challenges. (Description provided by: University of California San Diego)
2. "Naturally Produced Cannabinoids for Pain Management and Neuroprotection from Concussion and Participation in Contact Sports" led by Dr. J. Patrick Neary and researchers at the University of Regina.
The specific goal of this project is to determine whether cannabis/hemp based cannabinoids, i.e., cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can be used safely and effectively for pain management and to reduce the use of prescription medications including opioids in post-concussion syndrome athletes. An additional goal is to assess the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids to reduce the incidence or severity of acute and chronic concussion in professional football players. Our research team of cerebrovascular and neuro-physiologists, clinical psychologists, pharmacokineticists, and physicians from the Universities of Regina, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia in Canada have extensive experience in concussion pathology and medical cannabis research. Our project will provide a foundation to explore alternative medical care related to brain trauma and chronic musculoskeletal pain for professional football players. (Description provided by: University of Regina)
"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," said Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer. "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."
"The NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee is thrilled with the results of this process. We received over 100 proposals from top clinicians and researchers from around the world," said Dr. Kevin Hill, Co-Chair, NFL-NFLPA Joint Pain Management Committee, Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "The NFL is eager to advance the science of pain management and performance in an effort to improve the health and safety of the players."
"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," said Dr. Mark Wallace, co-principal investigator and director of the Center for Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health.
"The prevention and treatment of concussions is at the core of my research. That's why I am excited to have the support of the NFL on this project. Our interdisciplinary research team believes that different cannabinoid formulations found in medical cannabis have the potential to benefit athletes suffering from the acute and long-term chronic effects of concussions. Our research will also work to show that cannabinoids can be used as an alternative to opioids for pain management. Ultimately, this study has the potential to change not only the lives of current and former NFL players, but also the lives of anyone who may suffer from a concussion," said Dr. Patrick Neary, an exercise physiologist and professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina.
While the results of the studies funded under this program may inform alternative pain management strategies, they will have no impact on the jointly administered Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse in place under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Elite professional athletes outside of the NFL will be participating in the studies funded under this award. NFL players are not permitted to participate.
Megan Grant, Megan.Grant@NFL.com