Former NFL Players Advocate for Medical Marijuana at Inaugural World Medical Cannabis Conference in Pittsburgh

Former Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans and Marvin Washington, who won a Superbowl ring with the Denver Broncos, were among the advocates for the use of medical marijuana a panel discussion at the first-ever World Medical Cannabis Conference and Expo in Pittsburgh recently.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on medical cannabis and how its legalization will impact Pennsylvanians.

PITTSBURGH — Four former NFL athletes, including former Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans, came out of the “green closet” to voice their support for medical marijuana during the first-ever World Medical Cannabis Conference and Expo in Pittsburgh recently.

At the hour-long “Sports and Cannabis” panel, they represented a new organization called Athletes for CARE and talked about the benefits of medical marijuana and finding alternative treatments to opiates and prescription anti-inflammatory medication for pain management. They also discussed helping athletes find success after they hang up their jerseys and retire.

“What we’re trying to do is educate people on cannabis,” Herremans said. “Advocate for it and try and get it re-regulated. We want it to be more accessible. We think it’s very healthful to the public. Personally it helped me throughout my career.”

Herremans, along with former athletes Marvin Washington, Eben Britton and Nate Jackson joined Lindie Snyder, a medical marijuana financial investor and daughter of the late Ed Snider, the owner of the Flyers and former chairman of Comcast Spectacor, and Kevin Provost, of Greenhouse Ventures, for the discussion. Each athlete had his own story about why they support medical marijuana use, but they tended to center around the issue of pain management and alternative treatments.

Herremans started using marijuana in college and preferred it to drinking alcohol, he said.

“I liked how it felt; it made me feel better,” he said. “It was more in line with my training methods. I was able to get back out the next day and not have an effect.”

Yet once he got into the league, he was forced to quit smoking marijuana for two years after failing a drug test. It was during that time he noticed his body deteriorating during the season more than it ever had before. Searching for ways to get back on the field pain free, Herremans was prescribed addictive opiates and anti-inflammatory medication by the training staff.

“I realized the hypocrisy of what was going on in the NFL,” he said.

He unknowingly did a case study on himself, he said and came to the conclusion that marijuana was an effective pain management tool. The level of abuse inflicted on his body during football seasons when he wasn’t taking marijuana was the same as in previous seasons when he was taking it, yet his body wasn’t holding up as well. The only real difference was the absence of the drug in his system. Without it, he said, his body was falling apart.

The other athletes shared similar experiences.

A former defensive end for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Denver Broncos, where he won a Superbowl ring in 1998, and who now runs a financial consulting firm, Washington said it was during research on concussions that he learned about the medicinal effects of marijuana.

“Especially for pain management, especially for the brain,” he said. “If there is any sport that should experiment with cannabis as a treatment option, as an alternative to opiates, as something that can help with close head injuries, it’s (football).”

His goal was to get rid of the negative connotations associated with marijuana through education, he said.

Britton, a former offensive lineman with the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars, said he suffered his fair share of injuries as a player. The anti-inflammatory drugs and opiates he was prescribed wreaked havoc on his digestive system and lead to mood swings, loss of sleep and a rapid heart beat.

Opiates for many athletes are taken from the start of training camp through the over 20 week season, he said.

“The fact is every single day in the NFL if you’re not coming out to produce at 100 percent of your capability, they’re bringing in somebody to come and take your job,” he said. “So that sets up an environment where you do what you have to do to get out of that pain, to be able to produce on the practice field throughout the week and on Sunday.”

Cannabis, he said, allowed him to kick the need for the heavy pain killers and leave the league with his brain and body intact.

Jackson started playing football when he was 14 years old and started using marijuana two months before he took the field. His first injury was a concussion and he feels the marijuana helped him heal faster. When he joined the NFL he was given prescription pills, which he said never worked for him the same way. Marijuana usage would speed up his recovery time faster than when he was just on pills. After leaving the league, he began using marijuana again and was able to sleep and eat better and was in better spirits, he said.

Football, he said, is very technical game which requires you to be mentally sharp. “My relationship with cannabis allows me to stay mentally sharp.”

For professional sports league owners, like the Snider family, the relationship with players and alumni is a strong one. Snider said her family began to notice a concerning pattern among players after they retired.

“There were many players experiencing difficult times when they left,” she said. “And did not have the resources they were availing themselves of to help them transition out of sports.”

Many times players with injuries would abuse opioids and alcohol, she said, which subsequently led to other problems like depression and having difficulty finding work. Looking to help, she said she joined Athletes for CARE as a way of helping athletes because there were no teams or leagues supporting them.

“We all have to be on the same side of the table,” she said, adding Athletes for CARE has partnered with the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, in the Institute of Emerging Health Professions at Thomas Jefferson University. The goal is to further research into the drug and learn about its effects on things like neuroplasticity, that can benefit everyone, not just former athletes.

Athletes for CARE is currently networking with former athletes to help them make that transition. Its members are reaching out to help others deal with addiction, provide education and make them functional members of society.

“Athletes can be part of a team again,” Washington said.

Source: Eric Devlin, The Mercury
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