The National Football League (NFL) awarded $500,000 to University of California San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research to study the efficacy of cannabis in reducing pain caused by athletic injury. Researchers will study the impact of four types of cannabinoid doses on injured professional rugby players in a randomized controlled clinical trial; substances used for treatment include one with 4% THC, one with 12% CBD, one that combines THC and CBD, and a placebo.
When an athlete gets hurt and meets certain pain threshold criteria, they will vape one of the four cannabis substances over a 48-hour period and document their pain scores using a mobile app. After 48 hours, blood samples will be taken to evaluate the four substances’ efficacy in managing pain and to monitor side effects. UCSD Researchers hypothesize that the THC alone or THC combined with CBD dose will be more effective than the CBD with 12% alone. CBD with 12% dosage with no differences from placebo.
According to UCSD’s Center for Pain Medicine Director and pain management specialist Dr. Mark Wallace, the study will shed light on athletes’ anecdotal accounts that cannabis reduced pain and accelerated injury recovery. The research team anticipate this study’s findings will build on their preclinical studies which demonstrated that cannabinoid treatments reduce inflammation and pain.
So far cannabis research has focused on chronic and neuropathic pain, but no studies have evaluated the impact of cannabinoids on acute pain. University of Regina was the only other North American university the NFL chose to fund for $500,000 dollars, and they will focus on cannabis’s therapeutic role in pain management and neuroprotection in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The research conducted by UCSD and University of Regina will provide a much needed foundation for future extensive studies on acute pain management.
NFL policy bans cannabis use among athletes, but the latest collective bargaining agreement resulted in less harsh penalties for athletes testing positive for cannabis use. Instead of suspension, fines are determined by the number of positive tests. These developments signal that the NFL will develop less restrictive policies on cannabis use as more research reveals the effectiveness of cannabinoids in pain and CTE treatment.