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.
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.
"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 <URL destination="">IQ points drop with regular pot use.
</URL>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."
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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