Punishing Crohn's Disease Patient for Medical Weed Is Example A of NFL's Non-Sensible Drug Policy


The NFL has suspended Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson 10 games for a violation of the league’s drug policy.

Here’s what Ian Rapoport reported about the suspension earlier today (via NFL.com):

“Henderson has Crohn’s disease and uses marijuana to deal with the pain resulting from the illness and two intestinal surgeries. As his agent Brian Fettner said after his first suspension: “There is zero allowable medical exemption for this per the NFL; however, there clearly should be.”

Crohn’s Disease is chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. According to Palm Beach Post, doctors removed two and a half feet of Henderson’s gastrointestinal tract in January. Seven months ago, he wore an ileostomy bag attached to his stomach that he had to empty every hour.

Once the top-rated high school offensive lineman, he was suspended three times while he played college football at Miami. He told the Sun Sentinel in 2014 that marijuana use led to each disciplinary action.

He was literally suspended 10 games for taking his medicine for Crohn’s disease. We’re having fun. https://t.co/VEkQ7IPs33

— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) November 29, 2016

According to another Crohn’s patient interviewed by The Big Lead, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, the disease is debilitating. The patient takes medical marijuana to combat the symptoms.

The patient said he feels tired, lethargic, nauseous and has difficulty completing everyday activities. While some throw up for hours, every patient is different. Some take the prescription immunosuppressant Remicade, but it is only effective for about half of those with the disease.

“If I’m at my worst, I need help getting off the couch,” the patient said. “Standing up is an effort. If I can’t eat, I’m sitting there in pain hunched over. If you smoke a little marijuana or eat an edible, the pain goes away very quickly.”

Marijuana is significantly more powerful at fighting inflammation than Tylenol or Advil, advocates say.

Meanwhile, Henderson plays for the Buffalo Bills. As of earlier this month, over 9,000 patients have been certified by their doctors to use medical marijuana in the state of New York

We also spoke with Sam Chapman, Principal at New Economy Consulting, a political and business firm that advises investors on how to navigate the cannabis industry.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that Roger Goodell and the NFL Players Association continues to punish players for using medical cannabis to treat severe pain and other state approved illnesses, while turning a blind eye to far more serious issues such as prescription drug addiction and domestic violence,” Chapman said. “Players should be allowed to use medical cannabis in states that have legalized it, period.”

The NFL Players Association is expected to study the use of marijuana as a painkiller and could ask the league to adjust its policy.

As of now, many marijuana advocates in the NFL talk about the effectiveness of cannabis as a way to help with CTE. Crohn’s adds a new layer to this complicated story.

For context, the NFL has a much more strict drug policy with regards to marijuana than the other major sports.

In the NBA, the first violation gets a player a written notice. The second is a $5,000 suspension. A third failed drug test results in a five-game suspension.

If a player fails a test for the fourth time, he enters into a drug rehabilitation program. On a fifth failed test, the player is banned from the NBA. However, the league can only drug test a player four times in one season.

Would the NBA consider a medical exemption? Perhaps, although it’s not likely that this would be public information. MLB players are not tested for marijuana — though, hypocritically, minor league players are — while the NHL tests for recreational drugs but this is to monitor and curb addiction issues rather than to enact punitive measures.

For the sake of Seantrel Henderson and others suffering from similar medical issues, let’s hope the NFL takes a hard look at relaxing its policy.