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UCSD chosen by NFL for pain management and cannabis study

Posted at 3:56 PM, Feb 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 18:56:00-05

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - — The University of California San Diego is one of two medical research teams chosen by the NFL to help research the effects of cannabis on pain management in professional football players.

The league said there's a lot of interest in the benefits of marijuana and CBD for injury-related treatment, but not much research.

"Almost all of the studies with medical cannabis have been with chronic pain. There are no studies looking at acute pain and recovery," said Dr. Mark Wallace, co-principal investigator and Director of the Center for Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health.

Last June, the NFL sent out a request for research proposals on cannabis and CBD for pain management.

UCSD's study will focus on the effects of cannabinoids on pain and recovery from sports-related injuries in elite athletes.

The university beat out more than 100 applicants to receive half of the league's $1 million funding for their research.

"There is evidence in preclinical studies that the cannabinoids reduce pain and inflammation, so it makes sense it could be used to speed recovery," Wallace said.

Wallace said they'll conduct a clinical trial with local rugby players since they have similar injuries to NFL players.

"This is a real-world, real-life study. These are professional athletes that are in the middle of their season. We have to design the trial in a way that is not going to interfere with our competition," he said.

The trial will test 4% THC, 12% CBD, a combination of the two, and a placebo.

"These are doses that we've studied over the last 20 years with the Center for Medical Cannabis Research," Wallace said.

When a player gets hurt and meets the criteria for a certain pain level, they'll take one of the four doses for 48 hours.

Wallace said they'll draw the player's blood and use an app to follow the outcome, including pain level, function, and side effects.

They hypothesize that the 4% THC and THC combined with CBD will be more effective than CBD alone.

Also, the 12% CBD dosage won't be different from the placebo.

"What we're hoping is that this will be the launching pad for larger studies. Second, I do hope that it will help them change policy for their athletes," Wallace said.

Ultimately, Wallace said he hopes the study will provide a safer option for athletes to recover from injuries.

"There's a very high percentage of professional athletes that are exposed to opioids throughout their career, and many of them remain on opioids," Wallace said. "I think the NFL is looking for an alternative, a safer alternative and I think this is a good alternative."

The NFL also selected researchers at the University of Regina in Canada. Their study will focus on naturally produced cannabis for pain management and CTE.

The projects will take three years to conduct.