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NFL Player Requests ‘Therapeutic Use Exemption’ for Medical Marijuana

NFL Scottsdale

Dr. Sue Sisley from Scottsdale Research Institute, a Phoenix-based clinic that studies the medicinal use of marijuana, assisted NFL running back Mike James with paperwork that could eventually allow him to use medical marijuana while maintaining active player status. James uses medical marijuana to manage his chronic pain following a significant ankle injury. He was prescribed opioid pain medications by NFL doctors, but became dependent upon the drugs.

James used medical marijuana to help him get off of the pills and manage his pain, CNN reports. James participated in an exclusive interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN’s “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills” episode that aired on April 29.

James said, “I never had something where I could be coherent and still have pain relief.”

The NFL and NFL Players Associations (NFLPA) both ban the use of marijuana for active players. The only option they have is to file “therapeutic use exemption” paperwork that allows them to use the medicine. The paperwork indicates a specific medicinal use. James is the first player to ever file this paperwork.

James’ therapeutic use exemption, however, was denied. But said he will not give up.

From his own life experiences, he vowed to never be dependent on drugs. James said, “Drugs tore up my family. So I wanted to just play football, go to school, stay in my books, not get into any trouble.”

When he injured his ankle while playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his medical team prescribed him several opiates to treat the pain. The “drug cocktail” is common for professional athletes to be prescribed.

He said that because his medication was prescribed, he wasn’t concerned about developing an opioid addiction, but within a few weeks’ time, he developed an opioid use disorder. His wife, Aubrey, suggested that he use marijuana to help him stop taking the opioid medications.

Once he tried marijuana he said, “I felt like I was beginning a new life.”

Dr. Sue Sisley said, “This is the first active player who’s been willing to put their professional career on the line, to openly admit that they not only have been using cannabis but need it to function at the highest level. Mike’s case is such a perfect example of why cannabis needs to be made available, because he’s really not a candidate for opioids. So this is a safe alternative for him.”

James said, “I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not embarrassed about it. It is something that I will continue to use, because I have a life to live.”

The NFLPA claims their job is to “find the best medical science to support your [NFL players’] therapeutic use exemption.” DeMaurice Smith of the NFLPA said, “What I would say to him and every NFL player: Our job is to figure out, how do we build the best medical support for the best treatment for you?”

James will continue to be a medical marijuana advocate for himself and other NFL players trying to instill change in the league.