Ricky Williams on ESPN’s NFL Painkiller Survey


According to a recent survey conducted by ESPN, almost two-thirds of current NFL players say prescription painkiller use would be less prevalent if the league allowed them to utilize marijuana for the same purpose.

Though cannabis is legal in some form or another in 25 states and our Nation’s capitol, The National Football League still fails to recognize its medicinal capabilities. Currently, marijuana counts itself among the eight drugs prohibited by the NFL’s substance abuse policies. A player needs to have just 35 ng/mL of THC in their blood to trigger a failed drug test, a violation that enters the player into a series of elevating sanctions, including fines and suspension. Comparatively, Olympians are allowed up to 150 ng/mL of THC in their blood without generating a positive test result.

Of the 226 players polled, 137 (61 percent) claimed that fewer of their fellow players would utilize pain-masking drugs like Toradol shots if marijuana was available. Among the same players surveyed, 64 percent were administered Toradol, making it the most common painkiller used in the NFL today.

The rampant use of Toradol among NFL teams is a major issue because the drug poses some dangerous side effects, especially when abused. According to Drugs.com, Toradol was designed to be injected for a period of five days — maximum. Ketorolac, the drug marketed as Toradol, kills pain by reducing hormones in the body that are responsible for pain and inflammation.

A Toradol warning on the same website reads:

You should not use Toradol if you have any active or recent bleeding (including bleeding inside your body), a head injury, a stomach ulcer, severe kidney disease, a bleeding or blood-clotting disorder, a history of severe allergic reaction to aspirin or an NSAID, if you are scheduled to have surgery, if you are in late pregnancy, or if you are breast-feeding a baby.

Toradol can increase your risk of fatal heart attack or stroke, especially if you use it long term or take high doses, or if you have heart disease. Do not use this medicine just before or after heart bypass surgery (coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG).

Toradol may also cause stomach or intestinal bleeding, which can be fatal. These conditions can occur without warning while you are using Toradol, especially in older adults. You should not take this medicine if you already have bleeding in your stomach or intestines.

With the head trauma these NFL players have endured throughout their entire football career, it seems wildly irresponsible of the league and Team Doctors to issue Toradol shots so freely.

We spoke with former NFL great Ricky Williams to gain additional insight into Toradol use around the league and how a different approach to cannabis from the league may have altered his NFL path.

On whether his career would’ve changed had marijuana been an NFL-approved substance, the all-time great running back said, “Authorized use of marijuana would have changed my career drastically. I would not have had to miss two seasons in the middle of my career and I would probably be heading into the Hall of Fame this year. Most importantly, I would be better known for my play on the field and less for my indiscretions off the field. If I had stopped using marijuana, I would add that I would have been forced to rely on the prescription painkillers the doctors handed out, Toradol being the most common.”

We then asked Williams what, if any, side effects he or other players he knew had experienced while using Toradol.

“The side effects I complained about most with Toradol was what it did to my stomach,” said the former Saints, Dolphins, and Ravens star. “Side effects varied from cramping to painful constipation. Secondarily, other players and I became dependent on it. If we didn’t have it daily, practice was a nightmare because we were in so much pain. The Toradol prevented us from realizing it. In my experience, marijuana doesn’t mask the pain like Toradol does. When I played, I smoked marijuana to manage the pain, which required me to be proactive about taking care of my body. Using Toradol makes it easy to depend on the pill or the shot to feel better.”

We told Ricky about the information we found regarding a 5-day maximum on continuous Toradol injections and he quickly pointed out that those guidelines didn’t apply in the NFL. When we asked how often NFL players are taking Toradol, the answer was chilling given the warnings about the drug.

“Football players who are prescribed Toradol use it daily for the entire season,” answered Williams.

The ESPN survey states that 41 percent of current NFL players think marijuana would treat pain more effectively than drugs like Toradol. Chemical painkillers, and their subsequent dependency-risk, pose an alarming dilemma for players trying to stay healthy while they are playing — and long after. Roughly 60 percent admitted they are deeply concerned about the long-term effects of chemical painkillers, while another 42 percent said they had seen another player become addicted to painkillers firsthand.

As far as marijuana legalization goes, 71 percent of the players surveyed support the end of prohibition. Currently, there are 159 NFL players on active rosters playing in states where cannabis is legal for recreational use; many others call medically legal states home.

“It’s legal where I live,” said an anonymous player, “but not where I work.”

Cover Image Courtesy of Justin Montano

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Used to write about music for XXL, Elevator, Complex, Genius, and a few other outlets. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you'd like to read way fewer words by me.


  1. Russell Casement on

    I’m with Ricky on this issue, having neuropathy, due to diabetes. I know that THC help alleviate the nerve pain away, or at least mask it for me, something that their prescribed medicine couldn’t repair. Pain is hell to live with folks. I know personally. I got my eye put out at age 15, while playing football. making me a one eyed man, and was under intense pain in my eye due to pressure in the bad eye. Only THC relieved the pain. I’m of sound mind and body, and I don’t drink. My testimony is this. TCH when used properly for pain relieve, does not impair your ability to drive, as does alcohol, or other types of pain medicines. However, we must obey local laws. Colorado sees a lot more tourist these days. It’s no wonder to me. They have progressive leadership, who’s willing to looking at the testimonies of those who do benefit from THC. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the world. Head strong ignorant people can be extremely closed minded about anything that disrupts cash flow of pharmaceuticals. Money influence.

  2. Why the ESPN prefer the Toradol with all the sceondary effects, against the marijuana, a natural medicine with no secondary effect ?
    Maybe the pharmaceutical lobby has something to say about all this turn towards marijuana.
    In Spain is happening the same with soccer, all this pharmaceutical pain killers with secondary effects are legal but not a the simple plant of cannabis.
    They continue saying it´s a drug, but research scientists don´t stop telling us it´s a medicine with a lot of curative uses.
    It´s a little bit shameful in my opinion.
    Here explaind the multiple uses of cannabis as a pain killer, against cancer and other diseases

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