Higher Ground: study combats gridiron injuries with non-addictive grass 

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"I hurt daily," says former NFL and Michigan State University football player Andre Rison. "Marijuana candy helps."

Rison has been in the news recently due to legal troubles in connection with his child support payments and testing positive for marijuana while on probation. I don't know anything about his child support issues, but I sympathize with the guy when it comes to his pain. Football players work in a physically violent arena, and most of them suffer debilitating pain on a regular basis. I've met people who still suffer from having played high school football. Imagine what it's like after having banged around with massively muscular 300-pound people for a living. That's why I totally support the choices of players such as Barry Sanders, who walked away from the game hopefully while they were still ahead.

"I hurt every day," Rison emphasized to the news media.

Pain is part of the game, but when the game is gone, the pain remains and can get worse over time. I've heard plenty of stories about former players in their 40s who can barely walk. I've heard that opioid painkillers are easily available in NFL locker rooms. All of which feeds into the opioid addiction epidemic that has swept across the nation.

Pain is the primary reason most medical marijuana patients seek certification. Like Rison, some football players have sought an alternative to addictive pharmaceuticals to treat their pain — not to mention brain trauma and other sports-related injuries. The Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, or GCC, is "dedicated to the advancement of medical marijuana in the modern age," according to their website. "The sport of American football is plagued with multiple ailments and diseases currently void of non-addictive treatments and cures."

The GCC is not a bunch of stoners looking for an excuse to get high. They are trying to find the best way to help ailing football players. The group has entered a partnership with Constance Therapeutics, or CT, a California whole plant cannabis extract producer, to do an eight-week pain study.

"Back in November, we approached the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition and suggested an observational study," says Constance Finley, founder and CEO of CT.

The study is just getting started with the participation of Dr. Arno Hazekamp, but Finley is confident in her products. "There's no question that the bioactive compounds in cannabis are truly pain-killing, in a standardized approach as medicine," she says. "For severe chronic pain we use a fairly high THC product ... and carefully dose with a regimen that they can rely on. We're getting miraculous results. We don't have NSAID problems and don't have addiction problems. It's been miraculous in my own life."

NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, celecoxib, and others which can cause upset stomach and ulcers. Addiction problems come with the stronger opioid drugs such as morphine and oxycodone.

Finley says that CT produces about 20 different oils with varying ratios of THC, CBD, and other plant products. Some oils have as high as 72 percent CBD and THC as high as 82 percent, although it's more probable that a treatment might have a mix of 15 percent CBD and 50 percent THC.

CT is trying to create products that are more prescriptive than most cannabis products. Many people who use medical marijuana talk about having to experiment with strains and levels of cannabinoids to get effective relief. Then they have a problem consistently getting the same stuff at the same strength. Consistency is a goal for this company.

Finley's confidence in her products comes from personal experience. After nearly dying from pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for an autoimmune disease, the former clinical psychologist turned to cannabis. Her success led to a fascination with just what is in the plant and how it works. She learned about THC, CBD, and the many other cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant. In 2012, she began working with an oncologist in treating stage four cancer patients.

"We have a fair amount of experience with late-stage cancer patients," she says. "They drop morphine very quickly. People call us with gratitude even when their loved one ultimately dies. They can be conscious."

One problem with cannabis cancer treatments is that patients tend to turn to cannabis only when all mainstream treatments fail and doctors tell them there is no other treatment available. Sometimes it's just too late to make a difference.

"That was the case back in 2013," Finley says. "Every single one of them was out of options. Out of 28 who did it (used CT oil protocols), 26 went into a cancer-free state. The good news for us as a company is that, with our scientific approach, people are beginning to be referred to us earlier."

However, in order to access CT oils, you must live in California and have a California medical marijuana certification.

"We're not a dispensary; our products are not something you can find in a dispensary," Finley says. "We can be as disciplined and as scientific in our standardization as [pharmaceuticals] are. Patients need to be able to rely on something that will work for them."

The study with GCC may find good treatments for the ailments that beset athletes and others with similar injuries. Hopefully it will lead to them being able to find relief without having to worry about running afoul of the law and complicating already difficult situations.

In Rison's case, using cannabis helps his physical pain, but it adds more complication to his legal issues. Hopefully, the GCC study will help open more eyes and help us all down the path toward more effective, tolerant, and compassionate use of marijuana.

Still no change

The long hoped-for decision on rescheduling by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration came last week, and medical marijuana supporters were disappointed.

The DEA decided marijuana will remain a Schedule 1 controlled substance with "no currently accepted medical use." "The DEA and the FDA continue to believe that scientifically valid and well-controlled clinical trials conducted under investigational new drug (IND) applications are the most appropriate way to conduct research on the medicinal uses of marijuana," the DEA said in a statement.

Tom Angell, chairman of the group Marijuana Majority, responds: "It's really sad that DEA has chosen to continue decades of ignoring the voices of patients who benefit from medical marijuana. President Obama always said he would let science — and not ideology — dictate policy, but in this case his administration is upholding a failed drug war approach instead of looking at real, existing evidence that marijuana has medical value."

A lot of people expected the DEA to reschedule this year, especially with even more states voting on recreational and medical legalization this fall. They're disappointed, but that could quickly change. Hillary Clinton says that she will reschedule marijuana if elected president. Polls are showing that her election is a likely outcome. And rescheduling truly makes sense, especially if a few more states legalize medical and recreational use on Election Day.

More by Larry Gabriel

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