Game of Pain: Pushing for research on CBD’s benefits to NFL players

Why Jake Plummer and others are pushing for research on CBD’s benefits to NFL players


The former Broncos’ quarterback and other retired and active NFL players believe cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonpsychoactive compound in cannabis, could be an alternative to potent painkillers used by players in the league.

Editor’s Note

First in an occasional series looking at issues surrounding pain management for football players

BOULDER — Nestled at the base of the Flatirons and tucked behind a dog park is Jake Plummer’s oasis, a row of three-wall handball courts at the East Boulder Community Center. It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday and he has just arrived on his silver Giant bicycle decorated in stickers of local breweries to the sound of a rubber ball beating against the concrete wall — TH-WAP, TH-WAP, TH-WAP — and the beat with Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” humming from a wireless speaker.

Barrels of hemp on a shelf

ANDY CROSS, DENVER POST FILEFormer Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer celebrates a victory against the Oakland Raiders in 2005.

“Hey, Mr. Jake Plummer!” a man shouts as Plummer leans his bike on a tree, unstraps the small Denver Broncos cooler carrying a couple of cans of Pilsner and shakes a few hands. Here the former Broncos quarterback is a regular among a group of about 20 players from their mid-20s to well into their 70s.

“It’s hard with these young cats,” Plummer said as he straps on his goggles and tightens his gloves. “I’ll go til I’m stiff. Maybe two or three games.”

Plummer credits yoga for helping keep him on the court. And visits to a chiropractor. The jogging and cycling. The acupuncture. Even the dry needling he started.

When the Bright Lights Fade

A group of retired NFL players, led by former Broncos Nate Jackson and Jake Plummer, as well as current Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe, have teamed with CW Botanicals, and its non-profit partner, the Realm of Caring, in an effort to raise at least $100,000 to fund initial studies of CBD.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania will join forces to survey about 20 current and 20 former NFL players regarding whether they’ve used CBD, as well as their injury and medical history. Once they get the data the researchers will design a study on how the body processes CBD in an effort to see how much CBD players can safely consume long term.

The ultimate goal of the “When the Bright Lights Fade” campaign is to implement a more expansive clinical study on CBD and its potential in treating symptoms of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“CTE and concussions are the big thing right now. That’s what everyone is talking about in the media and the real focus in terms of player health. But from my perspective, I want to know about everything,” said Dr. Ryan Vandrey, a professor of behavioral pharmacology at Johns Hopkins and one of the lead researchers for the studies. “I want to know about pain, I want to know about post-surgery issues, I want to know about concussions and post-concussion symptoms. I want to know about former players and the behavioral health-related things that have been associated with CTE.”

But especially cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonpsychoactive compound in cannabis that gained notice a few years ago in treating epilepsy in children and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Plummer and many other retired and active NFL players believe the compound is an effective alternative to the potent painkillers they receive while in the league and that players should be allowed to use it.

So he and four other ex-NFL players, as well as one current one, have teamed with a Colorado hemp producer and its partnering non-profit to raise money for research to find out if CBD is a safe and viable treatment for not only pain but also symptoms of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The mission of their campaign — “When the Bright Lights Fade” — isn’t necessarily to advocate for the NFL’s approval of marijuana, though many believe weed should be legal for players to use, but to first work with researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania to study football players’ use of cannabinoids and the body’s tolerance of them long term.

“Do we have the silver bullet? Do we have the remedy? I don’t know,” Plummer said. “I sure would like to find out.”

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