Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon now champions the use of medical marijuana to relieve pain caused by football.
McMahon, who was known to play with reckless abandon, has suffered from early onset dementia along with severe headaches, depression, memory loss, and vision and speech problems, according to The Chicago Tribune. He was also diagnosed with a broken neck.
The former Chicago Bears quarterback became addicted to prescription narcotic painkillers after he used them while playing, ingesting 100 Percocet pills a month.
“They were doing more harm than good,” he admitted. McMahon found he could wean himself from the drugs by using medical marijuana. He started using cannabis after his home state of Arizona approved medical marijuana in 2010. McMahon told the Tribune, “This medical marijuana has been a godsend. It relieves me of the pain — or thinking about it, anyway.”
McMahon said he smokes the cannabis in the morning, occasionally adding some in the afternoon, then uses the drug to help him sleep at night. He asserted the marijuana left him less groggy than the prescription drugs.
The American Medical Association doesn’t approve marijuana for medical use. But the Institute of Medicine concluded in 1999 that marijuana can deal with pain with similar results to codeine’s.
Because of drug testing, NFL players will avoid using marijuana for pain, but some have reportedly turned to synthetic marijuana for relief, believing it will fly under the radar of drug tests. On Jan. 10, Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones allegedly ingested synthetic marijuana and wound up in Norwood, Massachusetts, hospital. Last October, Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman allegedly ingested synthetic marijuana, then was caught by police driving well over the speed limit and hitting another car; he was described as “delirious and aggravated” and “incoherent.”
Yet there is evidence that medical marijuana truly relieves pain in significant ways. Professor Yosef Sarne of Tel Aviv University’s Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine found that “even extremely low doses of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol]—around 1,000 to 10,000 times less than that in a conventional marijuana cigarette —administered over a wide window of one to seven days before or one to three days after injury can jumpstart biochemical processes which protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function over time.”
Dr. Mark Ware, an assistant professor of anesthesia and family medicine at McGill University in Montreal, recommended medical marijuana for the kind of nerve pain associated with football injuries.
When Amy Trask, who once served as the CEO of the Oakland Raiders, was asked when the NFL would allow medical marijuana to be used by its players, she replied:
… talking about responsible use of real, and not synthetic, marijuana, this is something that should be advanced and studied and evaluated, and then used if it can help. As I understand, the studies show it can help in two regards: pain management, and the linkage between the use of marijuana and perhaps the issue of head trauma … The stigma against marijuana is antiquated, and we’re learning that it can address pain and head trauma in a way that we are now addressing with extremely addictive narcotics, then I think it’s a simple choice, and I really and truly hope that the league walks away from this aversion to marijuana for historic reasons.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated in 2014, “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.”