Why Cannabis is the Best Medicine on the Planet for Professional Football Players

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Perhaps you may think my title for this article is a bit absurd.  Or, you may totally get it. I hope that you will take it seriously.

Considering what I have given up because of my choice to use cannabis, I have had to ask myself some serious questions about why I use cannabis. I believe that some of the answers I came up with apply specifically to me, some of them apply more generally to anyone playing football in the NFL, and some which apply even more generally to anyone who is interested in being really good at doing something challenging.  

In this way, I like to view football as an analogy to life. We are all trying to win in our lives against a multitude of internal and external resistance — whether it’s our own unhealthy habits, unresolved pain or a boss who’s a bully. We all have things we have to overcome to get what we desire in life. I know I have.

More importantly, it appears that our country is on the verge of a major cannabis revolution, one that we are, in my opinion, currently ill-prepared to handle.  Why do I believe that?  Because of the combination of too many people being too afraid to reveal their cannabis use (and thus what they’ve gained from using it), coupled with an outdated negative stigma that is keeping people and groups — like the NFL — from educating themselves. This combination has created enormous confusion, ignorance and useless suffering where clarity, compassion, and healing should be. As I watched the football players performing during this year’s NFL playoffs, it felt timely that I, in this spirit, shared the fruits of my relationship with cannabis and how I think it can possibly be of benefit to you.

marijuana-com-111During my years as a football player, I tried all of the pain medications my doctors have prescribed me to manage the pain inherent in playing running back in the NFL. My typical visits with NFL team doctors uniformly consisted of the doctor giving me anti-inflammatories and telling me that the pain I was experiencing was either chronic (arthritic) or due to an acute injury suffered while playing. The prognosis and prescription was always the same for both. For arthritic joints — something I have to get used to as it will likely get worse as I age, and for the acute injuries — 4 to 6 weeks.  The prescription: anti-inflammatories and taking it easy in practice. Neither of those worked very well for me, so I took my healing and recovery into my own hands. A combination of an anti-inflammatory diet, cannabis, yoga, and bodywork kept me on the field and out of the doctor’s office.  

More importantly, my health regimen went from merely popping a pill every night before bed so I was comfortable enough to get in a good day of practice the following day, to a nightly self-care routine. I have no doubt that those changes are the reason I was able to walk away from a 12-year professional football career with my body and mind still functioning at a high level. I have seen too many former NFL players who walk around wearing the accumulated wounds from years of masking pain. That could have been me.

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To make this relevant to a larger swath of the population, I will assume that most of us incur some collateral damage to our bodies, minds and/or souls as we endeavor to reach our personal and business goals. We all suffer minor and sometimes major setbacks. Quote books and coaches’ mouths are full of sayings about the importance of being able to get up and try again or, as I’ve heard million times, “you gotta have a short memory” and “let go of the last play and move on.”  Sound familiar?  

The logic is simple and sound. If you are holding onto something that occurred in the past, you are not fully present in the only place where you can do something about what has you so upset. If I fumbled early in a game and couldn’t get over it, I tended to be less effective for the remainder of the game. If I had a bad game and couldn’t get over it before the next week of practice started, it affected the way I prepared for and performed in the next game. Our bodies have to go through a similar getting-over-it process. Doctors call it homeostasis — the ability of the body to seek and maintain an equilibrium or stability within its internal environment when dealing with external changes.  

s-l300Supporting the body and mind’s homeostasis processes have been the goal of healing practitioners for thousands of years. They realized what I realized: the harder you work, the harder you have to relax and recover. The Chinese called it the balance of Yin and Yang. They recognized that if there was too much Yin in the system, it would lead to some form of pathological inertia. Too much Yang results in an eventual burnout of some kind. So they believed their jobs were to help people find the balance in their lives. It is no coincidence that cannabis originates from the same lands as these medical and philosophical ideas of balance.  

We seem to be slowly catching up here in the West. Since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (the system that mediates the medicinal and psychoactive effects of cannabis), researchers have started to understand more about how cannabis works in our bodies. They have discovered that “the ECS [endocannabinoid system] regulates many aspects of homeostasis, including neuroprotection and neural plasticity, and inflammation.”

Remember the absurd the title to this article? It popped in my head almost immediately after reading the above quote about the ECS from the medical journal “Endocrine, Metabolic, and Immune Disorders—Drug Targets.” The beneficial nature of anything that not only promotes neuroprotection — the preservation of the structure and function of the brain — and neuroplasticity — which allows nerve cells in the brain to compensate for injury — but also decreases inflammation, is obvious to anyone who has ever watched the frequency and intensity of the hits a player takes during a professional football game.

Speaking of professional football players — and one who may not find this article’s title so preposterous — I recently spent some time with Eugene Monroe at a fundraiser organized by Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, an inspiring group of American physicians dedicated to the advocacy of cannabis legalization and regulation. Eugene and I talked about some of his own personal experiences on the topic of cannabis and brain functioning, and I was deeply impacted by our conversation.  I’ll share them with you next time…

Photo courtesy of NFL News Desk Admin

About Author

Ricky Williams is a Heisman Trophy winner and a record-breaking running back from the University of Texas and the NFL. Currently living in Los Angeles, Ricky is now best known as a sports analyst, TV personality, public speaker and a vocal advocate for the therapeutic treatment of body and emotional trauma. He is also a strong supporter of the efforts to legalize and regulate cannabis in the U.S., as well as the growing movement to reform the NFL’s drug policy.

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