At the end of July 2017, the National Football League (NFL) announced it had offered its assistance to the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) in their quest to research marijuana as a therapeutic option for players in pain. The players union did not respond to the league, who has been notoriously reluctant to budge on marijuana, among other things including concussion research.
Instead, NFL teams and their doctors continue to dole out loads of prescription painkillers, putting people at risk for addiction and further complications later in life after their career is over. When Marijuana.com spoke with Ricky Williams about the league’s rampant use of Toradol, a drug meant only to be administered short term in low doses — and not to anyone with a head injury — his response was revealing.
“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 … 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.
“Football players who are prescribed Toradol use it daily for the entire season,” answered Williams.
Currently, NFL players are screened for marijuana use and face strict discipline, including the derailment of their career, if they are found to be using cannabis for any reason.
“Authorized use of marijuana would have changed my career drastically,” Ricky Williams told Marijuana.com.
Another former player who was tired of being told what to take and how to treat his body by team-paid physicians literally took healing into his own hands. Toward the end of his playing career, Herve Damas became fascinated with health and wellness — a passion that subsequently fueled his desire to become a doctor.
“My journey into medicine actually started curiously enough when I was with the Buffalo Bills. I suffered what’s referred to as a ‘terrible triad’ injury, tearing my ACL, MCL, and PCL, as well as meniscus damage,” Dr. Damas explained. “It ended my career and my childhood dream was gone.”
Once the realization set in that football isn’t forever, Damas faced even more surgeries, which meant a constant uphill battle of recovery.
“I was so interested in what was going on with my body that I was pestering the physicians with questions when one of them, Richard Weiss, the orthopedic surgeon for the Bills at the time, told me I should become a doctor. I still thought I was going to play football for another ten years. He patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘sure you are.’”
With serious medical procedures came prescription pain remedies and serious implications such as troubling side effects and the insurmountable likelihood of addiction.
“After surgery, there was a typical outcome: opioid prescriptions. I could not take them — they made me feel terrible, worse than the pain itself. My wife said, ‘Hey, you should really smoke a joint and chill out,’” Damas said. “I had never considered it before because of penalties during my football career plus the social stigma. After two years of chronic pain and pills, I called a fellow med student and said, ‘Do you know where I can get some stuff?’”
A Whole New Set of Downs
“I finally smoked cannabis and my world opened up. I could sleep and all of my psychological issues and sleeping problems felt alleviated. Five years later, here I am, a part of the industry.”
It didn’t take long for the naturally nurturing Damas to realize he could help others heal with the knowledge and experience he gained in treating his pain with medical marijuana.
“Once medical marijuana was passed in Florida, I knew I wanted to help fellow athletes. I went to a retired players chapter meeting and said, ‘okay, here’s what I want to do.’ I established a small population of NFL players and their families and there was an overwhelming response,” he said. “Stories and messages poured in detailing stories of cognitive impairment, early dementia, etc. Everything you hear about with football players, I saw for myself. Blowing my knee out saved me in a way and allowed me to be in a different space. I empathize with them though. I suffered too.”
From his experience as a professional athlete, Damas was well versed in locker room pain relief techniques that, for many, included opioids which, as many professional athletes tell it, are passed out like candy from the team physicians.
“I can say most players really do not like prescription drugs. In fact, they literally hate them and the way the pills make them feel physically. They fear the addictive potential of the opioids, so guys will drink alcohol or try to self-medicate with marijuana,” he said. “Players understand they are a commodity more than a person in the eyes of the league and the team-hired doctors.”
When Damas realized many were using marijuana as an alternative form of treatment already, he wanted to study it further to understand how it could truly revolutionize sports medicine.
Damas studied pre-medicine at Florida International University, got his MBA in Health/Healthcare Administration and Management from Davenport University and obtained an MD from the Medical University of the Americas. He is currently involved in a research study to explore the benefits of CBD for elite athletes.
“I am working with Martha Montemayor and the Cannabis Clinicians of Colorado on a study that will evaluate the effects of CBD as a pain management tool for former elite-level athletes including football, hockey, and even a few basketball players,” he said. “Although each sport entails different levels of physical damage, the overarching problem is chronic pain.
The study will use CBD medicine provided by four companies and will include nasal sprays, sublingual, and gel caps. The research team will examine brain activity and brain wave changes in the players before, during, and after administration.
“Studies have shown that men who have chronic pain reported their marijuana usage halted prescriptions opioid use,” Damas said. “The hope is that by pounding down the doors of the different leagues with data, the science will speak for itself.”
Damas believes cannabis can offer not only a solution for pain but also the mental toll pain and addiction can take on a person’s life.
“Patients are receptive and usually come to me with troubling stories of suffering. When you consider someone who has been dealing with the kind of severe pain that most people have not ever experienced, mental health becomes a major issue. This is not just about smoking to get high and have fun, it’s about real medical issues. For a player, it becomes a choice between a normal life and watching it disintegrate.”
Marijuana.com writer McLean Swanson contributed to this report