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SAN DIEGO – In the NFL, a pain management plan has become as important as a Sunday game plan.

That’s why the league now has sought the help of scientists from UC San Diego.

“They know that the NFL players and elite professional athletes are using medical cannabis for recovery,” Dr. Mark Wallace said. “And they know they’re using THC and CBD.”

Wallace, a pain management specialist at the university, helped found the UCSD Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research in 2000. He will serve as lead investigator in a two-year program to determine how THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, or CBD, a chemical found in the cannabis plant, impacts injured athletes.

“We hypothesize that the pain relief is likely coming from the THC,” Wallace said. “But there may be some benefit of combining the THC with the CBD because we will be looking at side effects also.”

UCSD received a $500,000 grant from the NFL to study the effects of THC and CBD.

“It’s a very positive sign that NFL owners are embracing this,” former NFL kicker Nick Lowery said. “The players association is embracing it, but let’s not get caught in that classic thing where we study it to death. It works.”

Lowery, a three-time Pro Bowler who played for the Patriots, Chiefs and Jets, has worked with the cannabis industry for several years. He believes CBD works wonders for players in their recovery and pain management, providing what he says is a safer alternative to addictive opiods.

Because the NFL has not approved THC or CBD for use, Wallace said researchers plan to work with pro rugby players as test subjects, treating them only when they get injured. It will take a year to set up the study and then the clinical trial will begin in February 2023 with results planned to be published the following year.

Wallace believes the NFL hopes to find alternatives for now – and later.

“They’re looking for alternatives to opiods.” he said. “Because a high percentage of NFL players who are exposed to opiods during their career, a high percentage of them remain on opiods after the retirement. And we all know the problems with opiods and the opiod crisis. And I think the NFL is starting to realize that, they just want some science behind it.”