Plenty of people in Colorado advocate for the painkilling effects of cannabis — but when Nate Jackson speaks about it, more people seem to be listening.
That's probably because Jackson, a Denver Bronco for five seasons, used to take hits for a living.
At the age of 35, Jackson has separated and dislocated his shoulder, torn his hamstring (twice), torn his groin, broken his fingers and dealt with bone chips, plantar fasciitis, labral tears, multiple concussions and nerve damage. Suiting up as a blocking wide receiver/tight end for almost seven seasons has given him a perspective on pain shared by few, and since his retirement from football, Jackson has been sharing his experiences.
Appearing at the Clover Leaf Consulting cannabis business conference's, “Sports, Meds and Money" this week in downtown Denver, Jackson spoke on the benefits of using marijuana for pain over common drugs found in NFL training rooms such as Percocet and Toradol.
“The pain is such a constant, and there’s so much going on. I don’t think the medical personnel is doing it out of malice, but more of compassion, in a way,” he said. “They see what the game is doing to these guys, so they’re passing out pills because they want to kill the pain for them. But it’s become reckless, and it’s creating a lot of opioid addicts.”
The NFL has almost been forced to recognize the problem. Last season, DEA officials surprised multiple teams by inspecting medical staffs after games as part of an investigation into former players' claims that teams inappropriately administered prescription drugs. And although it was only a compromise to allow HGH testing, the NFL did agree to raise the pot limit from 15 nanograms to 35 after collectively bargaining with the NFL Players Association.
Jackson, who has contributed to Westword , has become a writer since football, penning the book Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile and authoring stories for numerous publications. His published works and last year's appearance on HBO’s Real Sports helped bring the NFL's growing pot issue to light — something Jackson said current players are rightfully scared to do.
"There's such a stigma and judgement process by everyone around them. A current athlete can't stand up and say anything. He's going to get punished, fined and his coach and owner will call him in, or they might just cut him. There's too much at stake for these guys and they know they're expendable," he said.
Jackson said he doesn't have any dialogue with current players in the league, but he stayed in contact with former linebacker Scott Fujita when Fujita was on the board of the NFL Player's Association. Jackson said that, according to Fujita, the few times cannabis had been brought up as an alternative painkiller in NFLPA meetings, the response was laughable.
Even if the NFL suddenly decides to allow marijuana use by players, there'd still be some hurdles. Considering the issues the NFL deals with concerning player arrests, permitting the use of a federally illegal substance that's currently allowed for adult use in only three NFL cities would create even more legal risks (and an advantage for Denver, Seattle and Washington D.C.).
Pain isn't the only issue Jackson sees cannabis treating. As a fringe player in a league that doesn't guarantee contracts, he can attest to the anxiety players have to deal with every day.
"It's an incredibly stressful environment. You're always being scrutinized. You're always being filmed," he said. "You have a bad day of practice, when you go home, you're going to dwell on it. Marijuana helps you deal with that environment."
Day two of Clover Leaf Consulting's cannabis conference will focus on the business practices of legal marijuana and day three will feature certified classes on dispensary management, warehouse cultivation and marijuana regulation.
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