As more and more football players succumb to painfully terrible illnesses, advocates are urging the NFL to loosen its rules on cannabis use. Apparently, medical marijuana may be the key to preventing the sport's "eventual extinction."

Football enthusiasts are soaking up the thrills and highs of Super Bowl 50, but sobering news of former football stars falling to the deadly pits of a certain neurodegenerative disease are making headlines around the globe.

The List Goes On And On

Prominent football players such as late Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, Miami Dolphins QB Earl Morrall, New York Giants' Frank Gifford, and linebacker Junior Seau had all been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when they were still alive.

Gifford was able to live until old age. Seau, however, was one of those who took their lives.

CTE is a disorder linked to repeated blows and concussions to the head. It is associated with terrible cognitive ailments including impaired judgment, progressive dementia and memory loss.

Even football players as young as 25 years old aren't safe from developing CTE.

Former college football player Michael Keck, who had died at the age of 25 from a congenital heart defect, had experienced memory impairment, had trouble focusing, and became uncharacteristically emotional.

Doctors who examined Keck's case said the young man's CTE was as worse as that of Junior Seau, who was only 43 years old when he died.

"It was the worst CTE I've seen in an individual this young," said Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist from Boston University School of Medicine. "It was quite widespread."

Unless something is done, experts said the list of tragic consequences and deaths among football players related to CTE will only go on further.

Medical Marijuana Can Save Players From Constant Pain

Activists are pushing for extensive and lenient policies regarding cannabis use in the NFL, especially because medical marijuana may possibly be an effective treatment to the excruciating pain that football players experience.

"If cannabis is implemented and (the NFL) can lead the science on this, they can resolve this brain injury situation in a big way," said former player Kyle Turley.

Turley's nine-year career ended when he was diagnosed with CTE. He is now at the forefront of a movement called Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, which discusses and advocates for medical marijuana's benefits to football players.

For instance, medical marijuana has pain-suppressing and possible neuroprotective benefits that can treat the effects of concussive blows to the head.

In fact, a 2014 report published by the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute found that cannabis plays a vital role in preventing the death of people who suffered from traumatic brain injuries.

Study author David Plurad said research in animals has showed that giving tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) would improve survival after a brain injury. THC is an active compound in marijuana that induces transient psychosis-like effects.

"We've known that in humans this may also be the case," said Plurad.

Another study found that cannabidiol, another essential compound in marijuana, helped regenerate the brain cells of mice.

With all these potentially life-changing findings, advocates like Turley and his fellow cannabis coalition founder Ricky Williams promote the use of cannabis as a treatment option.

Turley said the fact there are no existing medications that could stop the progression of CTE should prompt everyone to look for an effective treatment for the disorder. He said more than 70 percent of NFL players use cannabis because they know it works.

"If we want to save football, then we've got to start looking at solutions, not just count concussions," said Turley, in an interview with Freedom Leaf Magazine. "Cannabis is that potential savior."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said 23 states in the United States allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana as medicine, but the NFL still doesn't permit it for medical use.

"The NFL's policy against medical marijuana is stupid and counterproductive," said NORML California chapter Director Dale Gieringer. "There's no doubt NFL players would be better off with medical access to marijuana."

The Case Of Former QB Jim McMahon

Former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon suffered from multiple concussions during his 15-year NFL career.

As a result, he experienced various neurological and physical disorders such as depression, early onset of dementia, memory loss, broken neck, severe headaches and speech and vision impairments.

McMahon took narcotic pain relievers for his condition, but he said these medications only worsened his pain.

"They were doing more harm than good," said McMahon. Now, the 56-year-old former football player said he survived his condition due to medical marijuana.

Learning from McMahon's case will perhaps be beneficial to the entire football industry, especially as cases of CTE-related deaths among football players continue to rise. It is indeed devastating to see once great players meet their tragic downfall because of the disorder.

Photo: DJ Alvarez | Flickr

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