Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe missed most of the 2015 National Football League season after he tore a shoulder ligament against the Arizona Cardinals last October.
After having the torn labrum surgically repaired in December, doctors prescribed Monroe the usual gamut of opioid painkillers like oxycodone to manage his pain.
Pain is an accepted part of the profession for Monroe and other athletes. Before NFL games even start, players are shot up with the drug Toradol, which helps numb the body and relieve pain, he said. But Monroe said those numbing effects can be so strong that players often get seriously injured without knowing, sometimes not discovering the injury until days later.
Just days into his shoulder recovery, Monroe said things weren’t right. He felt dizzy, lethargic, and generally “loopy.”
“They were making me feel totally unlike myself,” Monroe said. “Nothing worked.”
So the 6-foot-5 inch, 300-pound Monroe stopped taking the opioids, and managed the pain as best he could using basic anti-inflammatory medication.
Monroe, who spoke to the Las Vegas Review-Journal before joining a panel at UNLV to discuss the need for marijuana research Wednesday morning, began looking for something besides the typical drugs the doctors were prescribing.
The 29-year-old lineman began research to better understand the medicinal uses of marijuana, and whether it could be an alternative to highly addictive prescription painkillers.
Now, Monroe is calling for the NFL, which bans use or consumption of marijuana or its extracts, to stop testing players for marijuana and instead start looking at it as a viable alternative to opioids. He echoed these comments in a first-person online essay he wrote for The Players Tribune on Monday.
Monroe joined state Sens. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, medical director at The Grove dispensary Sue Sisley and Brookings Institution fellow John Hudak as panelists at UNLV.
The group discussed the need for research in the area, especially with Nevada voters facing the choice of legalizing recreational use on November’s ballot. All five noted how difficult it is to get both the funding and federal approval for such studies.
Sisley said it is easier to get approval for a study on heroin or cocaine than it is for one analyzing marijuana use. To get approved for a marijuana study, a group needs the OK from five federal agencies, compared with just three for most other drug studies, she said.
Hudak called the additional blockades of research “government corruption of science.”
“It’s an embarrassment that the government won’t let medical professionals do the research needed on marijuana,” Hudak said. “The government is coming between doctors and their patients.”
Even people opposed to marijuana legalization should want scientific studies to move forward, Hudak said. Having scientific proof, whether it shows legitimate medicinal benefits or not, would give lawmakers the best information possible in crafting legislation.
Hudak and Monroe agreed that if the NFL were to lift its ban on marijuana, the public’s perception of the drug could shift sharply.
“The NFL could be a great platform for social change,” Monroe said. “If they’re progressive on medical marijuana, that may have people take a look at it again and say, ‘Hey, the NFL has done research and they see that it’s medically viable for their athletes, maybe we should also take a look at it.’”
Monroe, who is entering his eighth NFL season, doesn’t smoke or consume marijuana because of the league’s stringent anti-marijuana policy, he said. But as he ages and his body and brain continue to pay the physical toll professional football demands, Monroe wants the NFL to look beyond the opioid culture that’s been accepted for decades.
“It’s a change that needs to happen,” he said. “I don’t want to have to take these drugs to continue playing football. I want a safer option.”
Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.