- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2016

Abuse of prescription drugs in the NFL has prompted a group of former professional football athletes to urge the league to roll back its ban on marijuana.

Former Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson hasn’t played professional football since 2009, but told The Guardian recently that he believes at least half of all active NFL athletes are using marijuana, either recreationally or with a doctor’s approval, in order to treat the inevitable aches and pains caused by routine collisions and tackles.

“There’s no safe way to get hit by a truck,” Mr. Jackson, 36, told The Guardian ahead of an article published on Sunday.

A 2011 study undertaken by researchers at Washington University in St Louis concluded that former pro-football players are four-times as likely to abuse prescription painkillers as the general public, and Kyle Turley, an offensive tackle who spent nearly a decade in the NFL, told The Guardian that he believes as many as 90 percent of former professional footballers have developed drug abuse problems after hanging up the towel.

Mr. Turley, 40, created the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition in 2015, and together with the ex-Bronco tight end, the two have a formed a team of their own intent on taking on the NFL’s pot prohibition in hopes of giving actives player a league-sanctioned alternative to addiction-forming painkillers like Hydrocodone, Vicodin and Percocet.

“I feel like I can speak about this because I’ve tried everything,” Mr. Jackson told the newspaper. “I’ve shot up HGH [human growth hormone], done the injections, tried the pills, tried marijuana. It’s not that I’m this big marijuana guy, it just helped my body the most.”

“Players need medication, like it or not, to go back on the field every week,” he added. “Marijuana’s already keeping the game afloat. Roughly half of those guys are already using it every week. They have to keep it a secret, though. If they get caught they get fined or suspended. It’s a really uncompassionate stance to take.”

For professional athletes caught toking up, the results can be devastating. While 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams play in states where doctors can prescribe marijuana to patients for medicinal purposes, the league maintains a prohibition on pot, cocaine, opiates and opioids. However, once a player passes a pre-season test for THC, the active compound in cannabis, Mr. Jackson said an athlete is in the clear.

“As long as you pass that test, you can medicate all year with marijuana,” Mr. Jackson said.

Those who fail the pre-season drug test aren’t as lucky, he added. “For guys who fail the marijuana test and are in the substance abuse program, they’re getting tested three to four times a week and can’t medicate with marijuana,” he said, “so many turn to alcohol instead.”

Yet while the NFL’s ban on marijuana remains in tact, the league has increased the threshold with respect to the level of THC that can be discovered in a player’s bloodstream before disciplinary action can be taken; on a collegiate level, a recent Associated Press investigation determined that at least one-third of the NCAA Power Five conference schools no longer punish athletes as harshly as they did a decade ago for using recreational drugs.

Nevertheless, the retired NFL players behind the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition told the Guardian that their attempt to rein in the league’s pot prohibition once and for all have so far fallen on deaf ears.

“They’re just giving lip service like they were on concussions,” said Mr. Turley.

As the GCC aims to reform marijuana rules, however, the painkiller problem witnessed by both former ballplayers could cause the league to soon make adjustments elsewhere. Roughly 1,300 retired pro-athletes filed a lawsuit against the NFL last year alleging the league had illegally pushed dangerous painkillers on injured players to get them back on the field.

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