MADISON, Wis. – A sort of “tradition” in sports medicine revolves around treating athletes with painkillers that can have damaging long-term effects, while also leading to the possibility of addiction.
But what happens when one of the most useful alternatives to opioid painkillers is illegal?
Cannabidiol, a non-toxic extract of marijuana also referred to as CBD or cannabis oil, has shown the ability to reduce seizures in young children, and has been heralded by several marijuana-friendly states as an agent that can cure myriad conditions, including chronic pain. However, the United States Federal Government in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration have deemed CBD oil an illegal substance.
Cannabidiol is considered a Schedule One drug (along with marijuana), which carries three factors: the substance has a high potential for abuse; the substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment; and it’s considered unsafe even under medical supervision. For researchers and scientists, the problem is that cannabidiol has shown such promise in the medical field that they’d like to study its effectiveness in other areas, but because it’s illegal to purchase in certain states (including Wisconsin), they are unable to fund studies on human subjects.
The Wisconsin State Assembly took a step towards easing that process earlier this month by passing a bill by a unanimous 98-0 vote that would allow legal possession of CBD oil for medical purposes. It does not, however, cover the legal transport of the substance, which must come from out of state due to a lack of legal dispensaries in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker has yet to sign the bill into law but has said he supports the measure.
What could this mean for athletes?
Problem With Painkillers
Painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet have been used in athletic training rooms for decades. As some team trainers and doctors will admit, the process for an athlete to obtain those opioids has sometimes been effortless. It wasn’t until recent years that players and doctors have spoken out about the downsides to pain management. Some of the repercussions of using the drugs include vomiting, confusion, and addiction.
In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids, while over 1,000 people every day are treated for misusing those prescriptions. Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre outlined his struggles with Vicodin during a 2016 interview with Graham Bensinger.
“I don’t remember how the dynamics of [the addiction process] worked, but let’s say two [pills] gave me an effect I liked. After a month, two didn’t do anything, so you needed three and…then four and then so on.
“A month’s prescription was 30 pills or something, depending on what they prescribed for you. I was going through that in two days. So I was having to hustle [my teammates] – I’d ask this guy for pills and that guy for pills. I was going back around pretty quickly.”
The process by which Americans are prescribing these painkillers is part of the problem. In 2012, health care providers wrote out 259 million prescriptions for opioids, which is enough for every person living in the United States to have their own bottle. Americans are overdosing on painkillers at a rate of 46 people per day.
The Chronic Crusade
In an age where the legalization of marijuana has been a topic of debate for decades, more and more people are turning to the drug and derivatives like cannabidiol to treat their pain. While the spectrum of knowledge about CBD oil is very narrow at this point in time, researchers have found benefits for those suffering from seizures, certain cancers, and even bone fractures.
According to the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, those who used CBD oil saw a faster recovery from bone fractures, which also healed stronger and were more resistant to future fractures.
But there are some downsides to cannabidiol.
While it can treat a variety of medical conditions, high concentrations of CBD oil may interfere with other medications the patient may be taking. This happens when the oil interferes with the liver enzymes, making it difficult to break down other substances in the body. It’s also possible that the patient is unaffected by cannabidiol.
With the Wisconsin State Assembly passing the measure to legalize possession of CBD oil for medical use, a signature by Governor Scott Walker would turn that bill into law. Walker is in favor of the bill but said during a stop in Green Bay in early January that he’s not open to legalizing marijuana.
“I’m not interested in opening the door towards legalizing marijuana, be it overall or even for medical marijuana, because I think studies show medically there are much more viable alternatives.”
The State of Minnesota has legalized marijuana products on a medical basis, but it’s a lengthy process to obtain the drugs, ensuring fewer opportunities for abuse of the system. The first step to obtain medical marijuana or cannabis oil is to be prescribed at a clinic with one or more of the following conditions:
- Cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea
or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting
- Tourette Syndrome
- Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including
those characteristic of Multiple Sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease
- Terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of less
than one year
- Intractable pain
After diagnosis, the patient must visit a medical marijuana clinic to get entered into a database and wait for government approval. Once approved, the patient pays a $200 registration fee with the US Department of Health and is given an identification card. That card is then used for obtaining their prescription.
Upon receiving the identification card, Minnesota residents may then visit one of the three dispensaries in the state to obtain their 30-day prescription. For cannabis oil, the prescription generally comes in three forms: tablet, oil drops, or for use in a vaporizer pen.
It’s unclear when Governor Walker may sign that bill into law, but State Representative Melissa Sargent has authored several bills to pass full legalization in Wisconsin and predicts marijuana will soon be fully legalized.
“I believe that marijuana will be fully legalized in the state of Wisconsin in the next 10 years…It’s going to take a community of us. I’ve been working on this for almost four years and I’m only getting more and more passionate about it. As time goes by, I have more and more allies in my court.”
Part One: Introduction of marijuana and cannabidiol
Part Two: Debating cannabidiol as an alternatives to painkillers
Part Three: Ramifications of cannabidiol
Part Four: Future of cannabidiol in Wisconsin
The Chronic Crusade airs all week long on 106.7 FM / 1670 AM The Zone
Monday, Apr. 3 at 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Apr. 4 at 5 p.m.
Wednesday, Apr. 5 at 7 p.m.
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Friday, Apr. 7 at 6 a.m.