(KPIX 5) -- Opioid addiction is becoming a deadly epidemic in the U.S. and players in the National Football League are especially at risk from the multiple injuries they over their careers.
Now, current and former players are participating in a study on a potential opioid alternative – cannabis oil, made in the Bay Area – to help alleviate the pain brought about by a football career.
Injuries like those suffered by retired offensive tackle Kyle Turley often come with a lifetime of pain, usually treated by opiates. "I need a new right hip, I need two right knees. I have got a plate and ten screws in my right ankle," said Turley. "I am bone-on-bone in every joint."
The pain is usually treated by opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. A 2011 study found that former NFL players were three times as likely to abuse prescription pain medication as the general population.
It's estimated some 400 NFL players are injured every year. "You're essentially going through multiple car accidents over the course of, like, three-and-a-half hours," said former punter Chris Kluwe.
Now a new study, funded by East Bay cannabis producer Constance Therapeutics and the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition - a nonprofit largely made of current and former NFL players - is looking at whole plant cannabis oil as a potential opioid substitute.
The oil contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis, and is intended to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
"We start with a raw, rice grain amount as just a constant, and then we double about every four days," said Constance Finley, CEO and founder of Constance Therapeutics.
Among the requirements for the eight-week pilot study: players must have a California medical marijuana card, undergo a medical assessment before and after they begin using the oil, and provide a full medical history, including detailed descriptions of all previous marijuana use.
"The way I look at it is that there are a lot of guys in the NFL who if this could help them, and help them long term, in terms of after they are done playing or even while they are playing, if this is a more viable alternative than opioids then that is something that all of us should be working towards," said Kluwe.
The research does have some drawbacks. The study group is small - just 30 players - and results will rely largely on self-reporting.
"I have tried nearly every one of big Pharma's medications to deal with nearly every injury and ailment that you could possibly think of and none of them have reached the mark that cannabis has reached with me," said Turley.
Another former NFL player, Eugene Monroe, has become a leading advocate for using another marijuana ingredient, cannabidiol or CBD, to treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury from repeated concussions which are well documented among former NFL players.
The players and their supporters say they're still hoping the NFL starts looking at cannabis as part of its plan to treat players' chronic injuries.
"When we see NFL players able to use a medicine that doesn't cause harm, that will help their functionality, we will see the stigma fall away very rapidly," said Finley.
The study is one a handful being conducted right now in the U.S. The NFL currently does not allow its players to use marijuana.
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