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Friday, June 14, 2024

A Look at Cannabis and Professional Sports

For the Kyle photo, here’s a caption with more info:

Former NFL player Kyle Turley shows cannabis inside of his own dispensary, Shango. Turley is a cannabis advocate and speaks out regularly about his health journey and positive experiences with the plant. 

Potential caption for Jim photo:

Jim McMahon, pictured here, is a former NFL player, and now a cannabis advocate and host of the Gridiron Greats Celebrity Golf Classic, a local golf tournament that is focused on raising funds for charity and spreading awareness about the perceived benefits of cannabis usage. 

Kyle photo credit goes to:

Jayne Kamin-Oncea

Jim McMahon photo credit goes to:

Getty Images 

A Look at Cannabis and Professional Sports

Former professional athletes come out in support of cannabis usage to help athletes heal, lessening opioid use

By Michelle Talsma Everson

“Cannabis saved my life, period,” affirms Kyle Turley, a retired NFL player. “I was addicted to opioids for two decades, which took a toll on my body. Since switching to using only cannabis to address my health issues, I have been off all pharmaceuticals since 2015.”

Turley, along with many other former professional athletes and medical professionals, continue to speak out about the health benefits of cannabis – especially when it comes to recovering from grueling athletic careers and as an alternative to opioids.


Cannabis Used to Treat Pain and Other Conditions 

Dr. Elaine Burns, an Arizona-licensed naturopathic medical doctor (NMD), is the medical director of the Southwest Medical Marijuana Physician’s Group. She shares that she has been a part of the medical marijuana industry since 2011 and focuses on helping patients obtain their medical marijuana cards to treat a variety of ailments. 

“Naturopathic medicine is all about using botanicals to help the body heal itself – marijuana is a botanical,” Dr. Burns says. “Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself in this industry, and for patients, it’s not about getting the medical marijuana card itself – it’s about what the card represents. It’s about the benefits of cannabis and the hope for a better quality of life.”

Dr. Burns explains that she most often has patients referred to her by physicians in mainstream medicine. She recommends that patients seeking to improve their quality of life through cannabis usage work with a physician directly.

One of the areas she sees cannabis used is pain management. In her own experience – which she makes sure to note is anecdotal and based on the results of her own patients – she believes that oftentimes cannabis, when used under the guidance of a medical professional, can relieve chronic pain better than conventional pain killers and opioids.

“Sometimes, there is a 100% conversion of the patient from pain killers to cannabis because it works so well,” she says.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), the FDA has not approved the cannabis plant for any medical use. However, the FDA has approved several drugs that contain individual cannabinoids (most often THC and CBD). According to the NCCIH, “some evidence suggests modest benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids for chronic pain and multiple sclerosis symptoms.”

In 2019, Canna Research Group, led by Joanna Zeiger, Ph.D, a former Olympic triathlete, author, and researcher, alongside her father Robert Zeiger, an allergist and pediatrician, conducted the Athlete PEACE (Pain, Exercise, and Cannabis Experience) Survey. In it,  they found that 67% of the 1,200 athletes surveyed had used cannabis in their lifetime. Sixty one percent had tried cannabis for pain relief; of those, 68% reported relief, according to the survey.

Dr. Burns notes that she has no current professional athletes as patients, as professional sports often have stringent rules regarding marijuana use, but she has treated retired athletes. Most, she shares, come in for pain management, to lessen their use of opioids, or to address neurological health conditions like migraines.

“Retired athletes, like all [of my] patients, use cannabis for an improved quality of life, bottom line,” Dr. Burns says. “For example, CBD, a cannabinoid found in cannabis, can be a home-run treatment for migraines. I emphasize, though, that patients seeking cannabis for treatment need to be working with a doctor and see it through the filter of medicine, because that’s what it is.”


The Opioid Epidemic and Cannabis 

Like Kyle Turley, retired NFL player and two-time Super Bowl champion Jim McMahon is an advocate for the health benefits of cannabis as an alternative to opioid usage for pain. “Cannabis is a lot better than taking pills – pills just mask the pain. Cannabis has medicinal benefits that are life-changing,” McMahon says. 

For years, the Centers for Disease Control has declared an opioid crisis in America. According to the CDC, more than 932,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose, and nearly 75% of drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.

According to the FDA – while they acknowledge that there is a growing interest in the health benefits of cannabis and its components – scientific research still is ongoing, and officials have yet to approve cannabis as a formal alternative to opioids.


Retired Athletes Advocate for Cannabis’ Health Benefits

McMahon, Turley, and fellow NFL retiree Eben Britton co-founded their own cannabis brand called Revenant MJ in 2021. Using their connections and various platforms, all three co-founders raise awareness about the health benefits of cannabis while simultaneously supporting nonprofits like the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which helps retired NFL players in dire circumstances. 

“Between myself and my Revenant co-founders, we have decades of experience with cannabis that speaks to its ability to help former athletes reclaim their lives,” Turley says.

Turley says their goal would be to have professional sports leagues like the NFL stop testing for cannabis usage all together. Until that happens, though, the NFL and NBA have loosened their restrictions over the years when it comes to cannabis usage among players.

Professional sports leagues are so interested in the fact that cannabis may help with athletes’ pain and recovery speed that the NFL is currently funding a study through UC San Diego to learn if cannabis provides post-game therapeutic benefits to elite athletes. The study is currently ongoing, but investigators predict the results may back multiple athletes’ anecdotal claims that cannabis usage does help in pain management and the recovery process. 

“Throughout our NFL careers and retirement, myself, Kyle Turley, and Eben Britton have witnessed first-hand the damaging effects of opioids and other harmful prescription medications on the bodies and minds of not only ourselves but fellow athletes alike,” McMahon says. “Our goal is to utilize our platform to send a strong message to the NFL and other sports organizations that fail to recognize cannabis for medicinal purposes, that it’s time to do so.”



Oftentimes, when it comes to utilizing cannabis for medicinal purposes, many wonder what the difference is between the plant’s two most often-used cannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids are a type of compound found in the cannabis plant. THC and CBD are both cannabinoids and similar in structure, according to experts, but the main difference is that THC will cause a user to experience psychoactive effects while CBD does not. Both can be used to treat varying health ailments, such as chronic pain.


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