Pubdate: Sat, 22 Feb 2014
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2014 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Note: Rarely prints LTEs received from outside its circulation area
Author: Gene Sapakoff


Never mind that Roger Goodell didn't officially open the door to 
medical marijuana use within a National Football League beset with 
concussion controversy. The drive-by mention by the NFL commissioner 
at the Super Bowl struck a chord. Pro football players, agents and 
media types continue to chime in, most without scientific input.

Before this goes too far - indeed before the notion of pot as 
concussion treatment trickles into a serious college football 
discussion - it might be beneficial to seek actual medical facts.

Evaluate real research.

Consult physicians.

That way Goodell, NFL players and others will know things about 
marijuana before they think seriously about chasing football's head 
injury crisis with another health problem as bad or worse.

Such as:

"Marijuana indeed has medical value, but we don't need to smoke it 
any more than we need to smoke opium to receive the benefits of 
morphine," said Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, Director of the Drug Policy 
Institute at the University of Florida.

Sabet is a board member for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a 
physician-heavy organization aiming to shape public policy with science.

"Marijuana's medical utility lies, according to the Institute of 
Medicine, in its 'components,' " Sabet said this week. "As such, 
components should be turned into properly dosed, standardized, 
replicated medications - a standard that smoked marijuana could never achieve."

THC, marijuana's active ingredient, has already been synthesized into 
a pill called Marinol that is available in pharmacies.

"Other medications are on the horizon," Sabet said.

A recent Northwestern University study shows the marijuana-related 
brain abnormalities are correlated with a poor working memory 
performance and look similar to schizophrenia-related brain 
abnormalities. That's not what we want for ex-football players likely 
to have enough physical problems.

The authoritative American Medical Association thinks medical 
marijuana research is incomplete, a spokesperson said this week. It 
officially calls for "well-controlled studies of marijuana and 
related cannabinoids." But the AMA stresses that is does not endorse 
"state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of 
marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of 
cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product."

Football pain, drugs

Goodell's marijuana comments were quite cautious.

"We will follow medicine, and if they determine this could be a 
proper usage in any context, we will consider that," the commissioner 
said. "Our experts are not saying that right now."

Some NFL players already use pot for medical purposes, Pittsburgh 
Steelers safety Ryan Clark said on ESPN's "First Take."

"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication," 
Clark said. "Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from 
maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and 
things that guys get addicted to.' "

Not a huge surprise within a league heavily populated by guys in their 20s.

No question, pain is a very serious issue among current and, as 
importantly, former NFL players. America's rampant painkiller 
addiction problem is something the NFL and NCAA have shamefully 
ignored. The immediate issue - a hurting player looking for relief - 
must be addressed with more attention than the NFL gives its Pro Bowl format.

But the league and its coaches walk a thin line between a legitimate 
concern that's been in short supply and pandering to an audience 
including young people delighted to find good excuses to get high.

That didn't keep Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll from saying 
medical marijuana is something the NFL should consider.

"I would say that we have to explore and find ways to make our game a 
better game and take care of our players in whatever way possible," 
Carroll said when asked about the issue during Super Bowl week. 
"Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do 
this because the world of medicine is doing this."

More pot, less IQ

Carroll knows a lot about football, and how to prepare a team to 
dominate the Super Bowl.

But what "world of medicine" is he talking about?

The world in which a 2013 National Institute of health survey found 
that only 39.5 percent of 12th graders thought marijuana was harmful?

Studies from experts such as Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)?

She says IQ points drop with regular pot use.

NFL management and players rarely agree. But they can probably agree 
that safer is better, particularly when treating brains already 
knocked around in Super Bowls and elsewhere.

Sometimes mixing alphabet organizations spells progress. The NFL 
should start working with SAM, NIDA and the AMA on sound pain-relief policy.

"I would love to work with the hard working people who make the NFL 
what it is," Sabet said.

The football folks should expect helpful straight talk.

"I don't think anyone serious about football has truly considered 
marijuana use as a solution to anything," Sabet said. "Marijuana 
addiction - and concussions - are both brain injuries that require 
proper medical attention. No one sensible would want to treat one 
tragedy - of concussions - with something else that also harms the 
brain, like marijuana."
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