For months, Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Eugene Monroe has been pressuring the National Football League to overturn its ban on marijuana. He's even donated $80,000 to researchers studying marijuana as a treatment for sports injuries. Now, at last, the league is listening. On June 2, The Washington Post reported that two prominent members of the NFL's medical personnel discussed medicinal uses of cannabis with researchers that Monroe is funding.

Jeff Miller, the NFL's Senior Vice President for Player Safety, and Russell Lonser, a neurosurgeon who sits on the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee, requested last Thursday's conference call with researchers from Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania.

"They are interested in learning more about the potential for cannabinoids to help current and former players," said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a UPenn professor at the Perleman School of Medicine. "They are definitely showing genuine curiosity, and they are definitely not throwing up roadblocks."

If approved, not all players would be able to access cannabis since it is only legal for medicinal use in 25 U.S. states. And another 15 states have legalized limited use of the non-psychoactive cannabis extract CBD. But if a major American financial and cultural institution such as the NFL recognized the the medicinal value of cannabis, that might encourage more states to reconsider their drug policies.

Monroe says players fear speaking out

NFL-approved medical marijuana isn't a certainty. But the conference call is certainly an early win in Monroe's battle as an advocate. He's joined by retired footballers such as Kyle Turley and Jim McMahon, who have spoken out in favor of marijuana as a healthier alternative than the highly addictive and potentially lethal opioid painkillers prescribed to players. But Monroe stands out as the first active player challenging the NFL's ban.

"To this point, I understand why no one but me as an active player has said anything about it," Monroe told The Washington Post. "It's a banned substance in our league. Speaking about it can honestly ruin someone's career if the wrong team gets wind of it and has adverse opinions on it."

But he's putting his career on the line in hopes of helping fellow players, as well as breaking down stigmas surrounding cannabis use.

"I want to break down the doors," Monroe added. "And if I can get a huge organization like the NFL to acknowledge this is something we can do to help people, if the NFL can say we're looking into marijuana research for our players, the stigma is going to leave."

h/t The Washington Post.

banner image: Flickr / Austin Kirk