Eugene Monroe urges NFL to end marijuana ban, reduce use of opioids

The NFL needs to reduce the use of opioids and allow injured players to use medical marijuana, Baltimore Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe wrote in a first-person essay for The Players' Tribune that was published Monday.

"The NFL relies heavily on opioids to get players back on the field as soon as possible, but studies have shown medical marijuana to be a much better solution," Monroe wrote in an essay titled "Getting off the T Train."

"[Medical marijuana] is safer, less addictive and can even reduce opioid dependence," Monroe wrote.

He points out that the NFL and the NFL Players Association ban any use of marijuana. He says it's time for that stance to end, and he calls for the league and union to:

  • Remove marijuana from the banned substance list;

  • Fund marijuana research -- especially as it relates to the brain disease CTE;

  • Stop "overprescribing addictive and harmful opioids."

"I'm not asking the NFL to prescribe players cannabis," Monroe wrote. "I'm calling on the league to remove its testing protocols for cannabis. It just makes sense."

Monroe is entering his eighth season in the league. He was a first-round pick of Jacksonville in 2009, and he played there before being traded to the Ravens in 2013.

"How can a league so casual about the use of addictive opioids take such a hard line on a drug that might provide a safer alternative?"
Eugene Monroe, in Players' Tribune essay

In the essay, Monroe details what he calls the extensive use of painkillers, specifically Toradol. Before games, he wrote, players line up in the "T Train" for their shot of Toradol. He estimates half the players in the NFL at some point in their career have used a painkiller.

He also details the excruciating experience an NFL player goes through with a concussion. His came in a road game last season, and it was exacerbated by a long flight home from Oakland. He described how he "destroyed" his labrum in a game at Virginia but felt nothing because he had taken a shot of Toradol.

"Football is pain," he wrote. "There's no way around it, and by no means am I complaining; it's the sport I love." He just advocates finding a better way to deal with pain.

"How can a league so casual about the use of addictive opioids take such a hard line on a drug that might provide a safer alternative?" he wrote.

Among his points:

  • On March 9, he advocated for the use of medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and head injuries.

  • Every team that has won the Super Bowl since 2012 is in a state where the legislature has passed "some form of progressive marijuana legislation," yet the NFL and NFLPA list it as a banned substance.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services holds a patent that labels the cannabinoids in marijuana "as both anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective, two things that are crucial to the health of NFL players' bodies and brains."

  • The hurdle: The DEA says marijuana has no currently accepted medical use, which the NFL and commissioner use to base their position.

"I'm not here advocating for NFL players [or anyone] to get high and party while breaking the law," Monroe wrote. "What I'm talking about is the responsibility of the NFL to care for its players. Nineteen players were suspended last season for testing positive for 'substances of abuse,' and for some, their careers may be over. Why? For using something that can actually help people?"

The policy on medical marijuana is guided by medical advisers who have not indicated a need to change it, the NFL said.

"We believe it's the correct policy, for now, in the best interest of our players and the long-term health of our players," commissioner Roger Goodell said at his Super Bowl news conference this past February. "I don't foresee a change in that clearly in the short term, but we'll continue to be in touch with our medical personnel. If that changes, we'll discuss it."

Goodell said his answer did not distinguish between use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, and legalization of marijuana in certain states has not affected the thinking.

"I agree there has been changes, but not significant enough changes that our medical personnel have changed their view," Goodell said. "Until they do, then I don't expect that we will change our view."

Monroe has set up a website to educate athletes about the benefits of medical marijuana. He also has made donations to researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania through an organization called the Realm of Caring, which focuses on cannabis research, education and advocacy.

He asks if the NFL will do whatever it takes to find solutions and answers.

"The answer can no longer be pills ... and more pills," Monroe wrote. "Every NFL player rides the T Train at some point in his career. But we need to be able to get off."