Why Brittany Griner and Other Athletes Choose Cannabis for Pain

Sean Kemp played most of his NBA career in 1999 before the league began testing players for marijuana use. So after playing in the NBA’s injury-prone, physical games in the 1990s, he would smoke. He didn’t like taking painkillers.

“I was able to go home and smoke pot, and it was able to benefit my body, calm my body,” said Kemp, who is 6-foot-10 and in his 14-year-old. Was above 230 pounds during the career. -Reel Dunks, mostly with the Seattle SuperSonics. He said the drug helps with swelling in his knees and other joints.

Now 52-year-old Kemp has a stake in a Seattle marijuana dispensary named after him.

In the two decades since the NBA and its players’ union agreed to introduce testing for marijuana, or cannabis, perceptions of the drug have changed in the United States, where it has been illegal for decades. Researchers do not fully understand its potential medical benefits or harmful effects, but it has become legal in many states and some professional sports leagues are reconsidering punitive policies around its use. Many athletes say they use cannabis for pain management.

Brittany Griner is one of them.

Griner, a WNBA star, was detained in Russia in February after customs officials said they found vape cartridges with hash oil, a derivative of cannabis, in his luggage. Cannabis is illegal in Russia, and Griner, 31, faces a 10-year sentence in a Russian penal colony on drug trafficking charges if convicted formally. He has confessed to his crime, but testified that he did not intend to pack the cartridges. Her legal team said she was authorized to use medicinal cannabis in Arizona, where she has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013.

Griner’s case has drawn attention to the debate over the use of marijuana for recreation and relief. The US State Department said it believes Griner was “wrongfully detained” and will work to release him no matter how the trial ends. But in the United States, thousands are in prison for using or selling marijuana, and it is illegal at the federal level, even though dozens of states have legalized it for medicinal use or recreational use. This is the WNBA. banned in

Kemp and many other sports leagues and lawmakers are urging change.

“There’s still a lot for people around the world to learn with this stuff,” Kemp said. “And hopefully they will someday, where people will look at hemp oil and all these things and realize that some athletes use this stuff to benefit their bodies, their bodies so much on a daily basis. Calm down by hitting more.”

Kemp said he was deeply saddened when he heard about Griner’s detention.

“I’m such a big fan of her, to see her with that big, tall body the way she walks. She changed the game of the WNBA,” he said.

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In testimony at his trial, Griner described injuries to his spine, ankles and knees, some of which required using a wheelchair for months, according to Reuters. Like Kemp, the 6-foot-9 grinner has endured bumping and banging while battling for rebounds and dunks. Many athletes believe that marijuana is healthier for dealing with pain and anxiety than the addictive opioids and other drugs historically prescribed by doctors.

Eugene Monroe, a former NFL player who has invested in cannabis companies, said he began using cannabis for pain relief after he realized that other types of drugs weren’t working for him.

“Going into the building every day, getting Vicodin, anti-inflammatories – there was something about it, over time, that made me think: ‘Do I even need these pills? Is this an addiction that caused me to come here on the team? Seeing the doctor?'” Monroe said.

The NFL eased its marijuana policy in 2020 to allow limited use, but it can still fine and suspend players for exceeding the limit. In the basketball league, only repeated offenses result in suspension. Griner will not face punishment from the WNBA upon his return to the league, an official who was not authorized to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the case, told The New York Times.

The NBA halted testing when the coronavirus pandemic began, saying it was focusing on performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball removed marijuana from its list of banned substances in 2019, but players can still be disciplined for breaking the law by being under the influence or using it during team activities (for example, They can be for driving under the influence of alcohol). The NHL tests for marijuana, but does not penalize players for positive results.

Last year, Kevin Durant, All-Star forward for the NBA’s Nets, announced a partnership with tech company WeedMaps, which helps users find marijuana dispensaries. “I think it’s time now to address the stigma surrounding cannabis, which still exists in the sports world as well as globally,” Durant told ESPN.

Al Harrington, a retired NBA player who has invested in cannabis companies, told GQ last year that he thought 85 percent of NBA players used “cannabis of some sort.”

Sue Bird of the WNBA has endorsed a cannabis product brand aimed at athletes. Lauren Jackson, a women’s basketball great, credits medicinal cannabis for her long-awaited return to the court this year after dealing with chronic knee pain. She is listed on the advisory board of an Australian company that sells cannabis products. Many former NBA and NFL players, such as retired Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson, have invested in cannabis companies.

About a month before Griner’s detention went public, the NFL announced that it had given $1 million in total to the University of California, San Diego and the University of Regina in Canada to study the effects of cannabinoids — compounds in cannabis — on pain management. Feather. UC San Diego’s research will include professional rugby players.

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Until recently, cannabis research has generally focused on abuse and whether it enhances performance in sports, rather than any potential benefits.

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine stated that a review of research from 1999 showed “substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.” But its review also indicated that cannabis use can impair learning, memory and attention, and that regular use increases the risk of developing social anxiety disorders. There was also moderate evidence that regularly smoking marijuana can cause respiratory problems.

Another review published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in 2018 found that early cannabis research showed a decrease in athletic performance. It also noted that there was little research examining cannabis use in elite athletes.

Kevin Bohenke, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, said that “cannabis tends to be safer” than the anti-inflammatories and opioids that are often used for chronic pain.

“That doesn’t mean it’s without risk,” he said, but he added that the goal should be to use treatments that “are the lowest risk and most acceptable to the person using it.”

“At this point there isn’t really a good justification for why it shouldn’t be an available tool, at least from a pain management standpoint,” he said.

Dr. David R. Macduff, director of the sports psychiatry program at the University of Maryland, said that many substance abuse referrals early in his career included athletes who drank alcohol. Later, he noticed a change for patients who were using cannabis.

“If you look at the universe of people who use cannabis, about 10 percent of them will develop a cannabis use disorder,” Dr. Macduff, who specializes in addiction and trauma. “They can be very serious. They’ll usually start off by reducing motivation and initiative.”

He said he was particularly concerned about how cannabis might affect adolescent brain development.

Despite his caution, Dr. Macduff said he believes hemp has medicinal properties that should be better studied. He added that one obstacle that is occurring in the United States is the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medical use and has the potential to be abused. It falls under the category of drugs like heroin and ecstasy.

Dennis Jensen, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, said Canada’s 2018 marijuana legalization opened the door for more research there.

“There are a lot of anecdotes, a lot of individual athlete reports, but the research doesn’t necessarily support or refute anything they’re saying yet,” he said.

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Riley Cote, a former member of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, said that he tried marijuana as a youth player and found it relieved his pain from fighting during games, even though he didn’t understand why. He co-founded Care for Athletes, a non-profit that promotes education and research on the use of cannabis and cannabis as a therapeutic option. It receives some funding from cannabis product and branding companies.

Anna Symonds, a professional rugby player and member of Athletes for Care, said she was sad and disappointed when she learned why Griner had been detained. “It’s ridiculous that cannabis has been criminalized, and that creates many more problems than can ever be solved,” she said.

Symonds said she tried pain relievers and muscle relaxants to ease the pain from muscle spasms and herniated and bulging discs in the back. Nothing, that said, acted like cannabis.

Former NFL player Ricky Williams said he hopes Griner’s condition will make people think about people imprisoned for cannabis-related crimes in the United States. Williams launched a cannabis brand last year.

He won the Heisman Trophy in 1998, but his NFL career was halted partly due to discipline from the league related to his marijuana use.

“I want to feel good, and I’m comfortable pushing the limits of the rules, so I went with it,” Williams said. “It became an issue for me because what I did for a living conflicted with my choice of consuming cannabis.”

He said that using marijuana helped him realize that playing football was not what he wanted to do for a living.

“I no longer use cannabis to deal with my life, but to enhance my work,” Williams said.

While he believes cannabis helps with pain, he wants its use to be more widely accepted even without chronic pain.

Williams said, “I look forward to the day the NFL says, ‘It really helps our players, they really want it and we haven’t got a reason not to do it, so support it’. Do it.” He continued: “Ask at least, instead of just having that conversation assuming they’re doing something bad, and then punishing them. That’s what happened to me and it doesn’t make sense.”

For Kemp, whose NBA career ended in 2003, the changing mood about marijuana use among athletes like Griner is welcome, if perhaps it’s too late for him. “I would have kept playing basketball if I could have used marijuana products when I retired,” he said.

He and his wife usually go out every summer to watch Griner’s Mercury play the Seattle Storm. Teams’ matchups have come and gone this season, without Griner being detained, but he’s still on Kemp’s mind. “Hopefully she can reach home with a safe return,” he said. “I miss watching his game.”