Does the NFL Have A Duty of Care to Allow Players to Use Alternative Medicine in Treatment of CTE?

NFL logo on field

The NFL claims that “[their] top priority is the health and safety of [their] players.”The league made this statement to CBS Sports when talking about the possibilities of alternative medicine, namely the chemical CBD derived from marijuana, being allowed under league rules.2 While seemingly open to testing new medicines and treatment methods, the NFL has yet to make any significant strides in improving.

Not to be confused with the psychoactive chemical component of marijuana THC, CBD’s effect on the brain is strictly protective; it is used in the treatment of cancer patients, and can be used to reduce pain and swelling, while decreasing the risk of serious injury.

Although the NFL fails to see the medical possibilities of CBD, Dr. Bill Kinney of Kannalife, a company pioneering studies on the chemical, explains in an interview with Sports Illustrated that “CBD has an amazing amount of potential . . . What if a football player could just take a pill that is non-psychoactive before the game and now have a greater level of protection against brain injury? ”3

I believe that the NFL does in fact have a duty of care to their players that constitutes they adhere to a reasonable standard of care when it comes to players’ health. They themselves have made it their first priority (or at least claimed they have) to take care of their players. Therefore, I believe that it is within a reasonable standard of care to, at the very least, direct some effort into exploring the possibilities of alternative medicine use, given the effectiveness of CBD for treating brain injuries. I think that it is reasonable to at least try alternative medicines so players don’t end up depressed and suicidal ten years after they retire.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith suffering head injury
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith suffering head injury

A potential hurdle in implementing widespread use of CBD and other alternative medicines among players is the concern of drug use and abuse. The NFL, and any other leagues who would consider using this type of treatment, would have to diligently enforce their drug use policies as this testing process ensues, so as to ensure the correct and safe use of these alternative medicines. Scientists are looking in every place they can for new and effective treatment, and with that comes the necessity for increased attention to player health on the part of the leagues.

I think a good idea would be for the league to create a new department of medical care and bring in former players suffering from brain injuries and CTE, and test alternative medicine like CBD capsules on them first, before active players. That way, they can see how it helps those already suffering and could research the effects it can have on active players likely to suffer in the future. The NFL owes it to their players to do everything in their power to look after them and take their livelihood into consideration instead of putting football first.

Image sources:


1&2 Could marijuana compound CBD help NFL players with pain?,, (November 30, 2016).

Ben Baskin, How cannabis is helping one company research treatment of CTE,, (July 12, 2016).

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