Jake Plummer stands in a grassy meadow on a breezy spring afternoon, a Rocky Mountain peak framing his backdrop. He poses heroically, if just a little self-consciously, for yet another medical marijuana-related photo shoot.

The dramatic setting and dramatic pose demand a dramatic pronouncement.

“This is to wake up the whole population, not just the NFL,” he says as the photographer snaps away.

The meadow Plummer stands in is behind a laboratory tucked into a nondescript corporate campus in Boulder, Colorado. The laboratory transforms cannabis and hemp into products that—according to preliminary research and a host of testimonials—can do everything from relieve pain to prevent seizures to, just maybe, repair a damaged brain.

Plummer is a leading advocate for the medical marijuana movement. But despite the rugged setting of his photo shoot, he is hardly a lone voice in the wilderness. Players such as former Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe and Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan now stand beside him. So do the mothers of young children whose lives were saved by cannabis-derived chemicals. And former players coping with the debilitating aftermath of their NFL careers. They want the NFL to relax its hard-line stance on cannabis in all its forms and support research into medical marijuana’s potential as a neuroprotectant, a substance that can protect (or even repair) a damaged brain.

Standing in Plummer’s way? A league slow to change, cautious/suspicious lawmakers and a stigma against marijuana and its stereotypical users.

Those are powerful foes. But with current players starting to speak out and parents shouting from the mountaintops about miracle cures, Plummer has much more than a Rocky Mountain breeze at his back.

“I found myself leading a movement that cannot be stopped,” he says. “There is no way you can stop a movement like this.”

Deep Thoughts

Plummer considers himself lucky by the standards of retired NFL players. He still has a substantial chunk of his football earnings in the bank. He has a happy family and a cabin on a lake in Idaho. And he still loves football enough to coach it in the Idaho hinterlands, at tiny rural high schools where, he says, “Kids eat Fig Newtons on the sideline.”

The 41-year-old Plummer also has his health. Relatively speaking.

“I had pain. That’s why I left the game after 10 years,” he says. “It was just the beatdown. Having to take anti-inflammatories all year to get through the season. I didn’t like the way my body was feeling.”

The pain was in Plummer’s throwing shoulder, lower back and, most noticeably, his hips. He tore both hip labrums at some point during his NFL career. He required major surgery. Plummer was nearly immobilized for eight weeks, hobbling a few steps per day on crutches. He started to have what he calls “deep thoughts.”

“I was miserable,” he says. “I was mad, pissed off. Questioning:Why the hell did I play football?

“That’s when I started to understand the medical side of marijuana and cannabis: to help with the pain. And also with a lot of the deep thoughts when lying in bed.”

“I WAS MISERABLE. I WAS MAD, PISSED OFF. QUESTIONING: WHY THE HELL DID I PLAY FOOTBALL?”

— Jake Plummer

During his playing career, Plummer tried to avoid opioids and other painkillers. He wanted the feedback that pain provided as his body recovered. He also distrusted opioids and hated the bloating and stomach discomfort that came from the steady stream of anti-inflammatories in his body.

“Then I’d get off of them for the bye week and I could barely walk,” he says.

After hip surgery, he avoided the Percocet and other painkillers prescribed to him as much as possible, not to mention the side-effect medications (anti-constipation drugs, for instance) prescribed with them.

Eventually, a former teammate introduced him to a cannabis-based chemical called Charlotte’s Web, a substance that purportedly had anti-inflammatory properties without intoxication or other side effects.

Plummer prefers to not go into specifics about whether he used marijuana during his playing days. A product of the “Just Say No” ’80s, he says he saw people close to him use the drug occasionally without becoming hopeless addicts.

“I thought, ‘Wow. They’re not dumb. They’re not criminals. They are intelligent, polite and nice,'” he says. “I knew there was a misconception about what a user was.”

And the substance recommended to him did not promise or threaten a buzz.

So Plummer, who even avoided over-the-counter supplements as a player, began taking the cannabis-derived oil. He didn’t make any other lifestyle changes.

“I haven’t gone gluten-free or sugar-free or started meditating five hours a day or doing yoga,” he says. “I do everything I always have, except I take Charlotte’s Web.”

And as a result, he says, his muscle and joint pain is mostly gone. So are most of the random headaches he used to suffer.

“I don’t have those creaky five or six first steps anymore,” he says. “I can get down on the ground and play Legos with my kids. I can sit down on my feet with my knees bent, jump up and take off.”

No wonder Plummer became an apostle to the medical marijuana cause. Though the term “medical marijuana” can be misleading. Despite its potential health benefits, the substance he takes cannot legally be called “medicine.” And it’s not precisely marijuana, either.

Feral Hemp

Long ago, the “cool” kids who smoked behind the rec center called it “ditch weed.” It grew in roadside culverts and fallow fields across America, its leaves blooming into seven-pointed glory as if it were posing for a close-up on a Grateful Dead album cover. But a choir boy could smoke a Macanudo-size blunt of it and feel nothing more than a headache.

It was feral hemp, country cousin to the stuff cultivated in basement hothouses for maximum intoxication, surprisingly (and, for some, frustratingly) low in the chemical THC, which can make Scooby-Doo cartoons and stale Oreos seem like a productive Friday night.

“That’s where Charlotte’s Web comes from, my friend,” says Joel Stanley, CEO of CW Hemp.

Stanley and his brothers, founders of the company that makes Plummer’s cannabis-derived supplement of choice, come from a conservative Christian family in Texas. Stanley’s CW Hemp (and some other Colorado cannabis product manufacturers/dispensaries) established a nonprofit research and advocacy organization called Realm of Caring. Realm of Caring produced a promotional campaign entitled “When the Bright Lights Fade” to illustrate how medical marijuana can help retired NFL players. Plummer is the primary spokesperson for When the Bright Lights Fade, as well as a general advocate for the cause.

Stanley—who does not smoke marijuana, saying he does not enjoy its effects—laughed when his brothers left home to establish one of Colorado’s first dispensaries.

“I always thought the prohibition was ridiculous,” he says. “The amount of people going to jail over possession of a plant was hysterical. But I laughed at the idea of marijuana as medicine.”

When Stanley visited his brothers and met chemotherapy patients whose quality of life had improved significantly because of marijuana’s anti-nausea, appetite-stimulant and pain/anxiety alleviation properties, he left the Texas oil industry and began selling marijuana.

The search for new uses for cannabis led the brothers to investigategovernment patent 6630507, which classifies cannabidiol, or CBD, a molecule that can be extracted from cannabis plants, to be “useful” or have “particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”

That’s right, the U.S. government simultaneously classifies marijuana as a Schedule I illicit drug with no medicinal value and issues patents (to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, no less) saying it can help treat some of society’s most troubling diseases.

No wonder the NFL is a little confused and cautious.

But the problem with isolating CBD for its medical potential is that most of the marijuana sold at concerts for 50 years was bred to maximize THC, the “fun” molecule that would intoxicate patients instead of helping them.

To create a neuroprotectant substance that didn’t get you high, the brothers would have to buck both market trends and half a century of selective breeding. So it was off to America’s roadside ditches in search of raw materials.

“It was all the weed that no one wanted,” Stanley says. “If someone told a story about seeing feral hemp while driving, we drove out and found it.”

One of the first stops on a tour of the CW Hemp laboratory—the one beside the meadow where Jake Plummer issued his wake-up call—is a room filled with bags of hemp the size of bags of topsoil.

The aroma in the room is unmistakable for anyone who has led a varied life. The juvenile portion of the subconscious does a cartwheel at the sight of the bags.

But Vijay Bachus, director of lab operations at CW Hemp, warns that the hemp in the bags has a THC level of 0.3 percent, making it a bulk agricultural product. If you are seeking a buzz, you would be better off smoking a hunk of rope.

“It’s orders of magnitude below what you’re getting from a recreational dispensary,” Bachus says.

The hemp is tested for everything from molds to pesticides. Then the CBD is extracted chemically and mixed with an olive- or coconut-oil base in a series of carefully partitioned labs. The CW Hemp employees wear hairnets and safety goggles, with the extraction and packaging process set up to meet Food and Drug Administration standards.

“You’re not going to find this anywhere else in the medical marijuana industry,” Bachus says. “You’re going to find guys in a garage or a warehouse listening to reggae.”

The resulting CBD oil is mixed with mint-chocolate flavoring to make it palatable and then bottled by hand. Asked what would happen if one chugged a whole bottle of the stuff, Bachus says it is so harmless the person would only risk “maybe a little diarrhea from drinking all of that olive oil.”

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Photo by Matt Nager / Special to Bleacher Report

Yet this substance cured Plummer’s post-NFL aches and pains. It could treat Alzheimer’s. And the possible connections to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and concussion-based ailments are too obvious to belabor.

It all sounds a little too good to be true. Plummer wouldn’t be the first famous quarterback to get snookered by some voodoo science and a touch of the placebo effect.

It would be easy to write this all off as minty Jake the Snake Oil—except Plummer isn’t the one making the most compelling claims.

Powerful Statement

Heather Jackson is a medical marijuana activist, the mother of a child with a disability and a woman who is anything but shy about stating her agenda.

“To be very honest with you, I’m capitalizing on this national conversation,” she says, “not only to help football players but to help kids like my son.”

Jackson’s son Zaki was born with Doose syndrome, a deadly form of early-childhood epilepsy. He began having seizures at four months old. He was soon having hundreds of them per day. He had them through the night. During the worst of them, he would stop breathing.

“The first thing I did in the morning for years was check on my son and make sure he was alive,” Jackson says.

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Zaki Jackson (left) has been seizure-free for three years (Photo courtesy of Realm of Caring).

By age nine, Zaki was on hospice. Developmentally, he was still a toddler: incontinent, only able to speak a few words, unable to identify colors. The steroids Zaki took as epilepsy treatment caused cataracts and bone loss.

A hospice professional discreetly steered Jackson toward Charlotte’s Web. The Stanley brothers had just had their first major success treating childhood seizures with Charlotte Figi, after whom their company is now named.

Jackson was a skeptic and researcher by nature.

“I needed to know that this could be tested,” she says.

The Stanley brothers, meanwhile, were understandably cautious about their second foray into pediatric treatment.

Eventually, the marijuana grower who doesn’t smoke marijuana and the skeptical mother with no other options decided Zaki had nothing left to lose. They administered a tincture of CBD oil to a child who had been suffering brief, violent seizures every two to 10 minutes for days before the treatment.

Zaki was seizure-free for the next 48 hours.

When the seizures returned, Jackson began adjusting the doses.

“I was doing my own little personal clinical trial on my kid,” she says.

After three months on no other drugs but CBD oil, Zaki had his last seizure on Oct. 3, 2012. Now 13 years old, Zaki can ride a bike, knows the alphabet and can write.

Zaki and Charlotte are not alone. Thousands of families have moved to Colorado in search of CBD treatment. Jackson, through Realm of Caring, helps subsidize families who are relocating and paying for substances not covered by health insurance. CW Hemp claims a 70 to 75 percent success rate for seizure treatment.

There’s an irony to Plummer, or any NFL player, being the spokesman for what’s going on here—for what these scientists and mothers/activists are trying to do.

“Ultimately, the moms are the ones that kept this thing alive,” Plummer says. “Now, us overpaid, privileged athletes come in to benefit from it but also to bring awareness to it.

“These kids are basically on hospice. They’re done. ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’ But you bring the NFL in and people are like: ‘The NFL? Oh my God—these poor football players.’

“If we have to bring current players, former players, mothers with their sick children in front of the powers that be…that’s a powerful statement.”

If that happens, the football players aren’t the ones the powers that be need to worry about.

“If the NFL doesn’t want to fund this research, they will have to look me in the eye and tell me,” Jackson says. “That’s how that’s going to go down.”

Both Sides of the Coin

The research Jackson is referring to is a series of studies designed by Dr. Ryan Vandrey, a behavioral pharmacology expert at Johns Hopkins University and one of the nation’s leading marijuana researchers.

The most critical study is now underway. It is an anonymous yearlong survey of all the drugs current NFL players take, from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription medications to recreational drugs, which could then be used to isolate how often a cannabis-related substance is used, its effectiveness as a painkiller, any other medical benefits, its drawbacks, its side effects and so forth.

No standoff between Jackson and the NFL proved necessary. Monroe provided the primary funding for the research. “The stress you put your body and minds through during a season can have detrimental side effects that can last the rest of your life,” reads the introductory letter, co-signed by Monroe and Plummer. “If your health and well-being are important to you please sign up for this monumental study on substance use and player health.”

“We want to find out: What all drugs do these players take? Alcohol, opioids, cannabis, anti-inflammatories?” Plummer says. “How it helps them. How it affects their sleep. How clearheaded they are. How it affects their healing during the week. We want to see how all of this affects them.”

For such a study to be scientifically valid, Vandrey needs a large and diverse sample of players.

“There’s no value in recruiting a bunch of people who think weed is great and asking them to take part in a cannabis study,” Vandrey says.

That means current NFL players who use cannabis must know participation in the study won’t immediately place them on the NFL’s drug-testing fast track and NFL players who don’t use cannabis must know they won’t be assumed to be cannabis users if they take part in the study.

The questionnaires sent to players in late August contain detailed assurances of privacy from Vandrey.

“Your information is protected by federal privacy laws,” he writes. “We have obtained a Certificate of Confidentiality preventing disclosure of your name or survey responses, and the research team will make no disclosures about who participated in the research study.”

Vandrey is as far removed from the stereotypical tie-dye legalization advocate crowd as the minty non-psychoactive CBD oil is fromPineapple Express. An internet search of Vandrey produces a blog post calling him an “anti-pot professor” who may be a “lap dog” for anti-legalization lobbyists.

Vandrey’s research tells pro-legalization extremists things they don’t want to hear. Despite the “100 percent harmless” drumbeat often sounded in the cannabis community, marijuana dependence, habituation and withdrawal are possible for heavy smokers. Dispensaries around Colorado are dangerously cavalier aboutlabeling the contents and potency of their products (imagine thinking you are drinking a light beer only to discover you’ve been guzzling something as strong as 12-year-old Scotch). And nearly all medicinal claims about marijuana are premature, if they are substantiated at all.

Vandrey, in other words, speaks the NFL’s language.

“If you’re not out in the streets running around saying that everyone should be smoking weed all of the time, some people take that as meaning you’re a hater,” he jokes. “My purpose is to do objective research and to look at both sides of the coin.”

According to Vandrey, medical marijuana exists in a “regulatory negative space.” Twenty years of legalized medical marijuana in California and elsewhere has produced many case studies indicating cannabis products are useful pain relievers and have other medicinal properties. But there have been few rigorous double-blind scientific studies.

Is cannabis really more effective and less harmful than a prescription opioid? If so, is CBD or THC doing the heavy lifting? What’s the recommended dosage rate? Do CBD or THC interact dangerously with other compounds?

Many NFL players have self-medicated with marijuana for pain or anxiety. But perhaps they just need anti-inflammatory CBD, not intoxicating THC. Or perhaps a dollop of THC in the recipe can ease depression or anxiety without impairing the user. And maybe one dosage rate of such a substance can be helpful while a higher rate leads to a dependence risk.

Those are the questions Vandrey wants to answer.

“We’re starting with a sledgehammer,” he says. “And we want to refine it down to a fine chisel.”

Vandrey and the Plummer/Realm of Caring crowd would appear to be strange bedfellows at first, but they are working toward a common cause.

“I need Ryan, because I am biased,” Jackson says. “I think the plant’s amazing. And I can tell you what the results are going to be right now.”

Says Vandrey: “Some advocates only want to hear good news. The folks at Realm of Caring want to hear news.”

Plummer himself understands the NFL’s cautious approach.

“Let’s find evidence,” he says. “Let’s research this. Let’s make sure the claims are legit.

“Who knows? Maybe there will be a marijuana doctor for each team who makes sure these guys are taking these things correctly.”

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Photo by Matt Nager / Special to Bleacher Report

The NFL, to its credit, is not slamming phones down in anyone’s ear. Vandrey and Monroe were part of a conference call with Jeff Miller (the NFL’s senior vice president of health and safety policy) and Russell Lonser (neurosurgeon and member of the league’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee) in early June. Both sides are keeping tight wraps on the results of that conversation. The NFL’s only public statement on medical marijuana remains Roger Goodell’s general denouncement of it in February.

But as Monroe says, “Just the fact that the conversation took place was a reason for optimism.”

Plummer has also spoken to individual owners, who refer him up to Miller.

“No one so far has said, ‘No way. This is a bad idea. You are barking up the wrong tree,'” Plummer says.

Of course, we are now talking about the NFL participating in neurological research, which brings another layer of baggage to the discussion.

“After the concussion study, do we want them involved?” Plummer jokes pointedly.

The NFL is not directly involved in Vandrey’s study: no money, no blessing, not even a list of player names (Realm of Caring staffers culled the names from team rosters). But the league has not prohibited participation in the study, either. The NFL is conducting its own general-health research in conjunction with Harvard University. There have been discussions among the researchers about possible collaboration or (anonymous) data sharing.

The Johns Hopkins research could prove inconclusive, or once again tell legalization advocates something they would rather not here. But Vandrey points out a negative result from his research would still be a valuable result for the NFL.

“The NFL should want to know,” he says. “Are our players who are using cannabis getting some benefit? Or are they being harmed by it? If they are being harmed, we need to do more to educate them and protect them. If they are getting benefit by going against league rules and risking consequences, there has to be some reason. The NFL should want to know about that, too.

“Either way, the safety of their players is at stake.”

Research to determine pros and cons is a long way from taking marijuana off the league’s banned substance list, though that is on both Plummer’s and Monroe’s agenda as well. It’s also a long way from declaring medical cannabis as a miracle cure for CTE.

When asked if there were any science whatsoever to make such a claim, Vandrey issues a flat, emphatic “No.”

“But that’s one of the things we’re hoping to get from the research,” he says. “We’re hoping to at least get the first nugget of information on understanding whether or not it has benefit there.”

Golfing for Cannabis

Eisenhower Golf Course at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is one of the most unlikely settings you could imagine for a pro-cannabis fundraiser. An armed military police officer in fatigues and a beret orders you to pop the trunk at a checkpoint before entry. The clubhouse itself is an elegantly genteel mountain cottage.

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Heather Jackson (middle) poses with former and current NFL players at the Realm of Caring golf tournament (Photo by Mike Tanier).

But this is not your stereotypical pro-cannabis gathering. Sure, Monroe is wearing calf-length pot-leaf socks, and some hemp-cloth ponchos appear once a thunderstorm rumbles down from the Rockies. But throw away your Burning Man expectations: There are no hacky sacks or patchouli smells, no Lebowski or Wavy Gravy types.

Instead, there are families pushing strollers with young children who are developmentally disabled but smiling and interactive; moms sharing remarkable news—six months seizure-free, eating solid foods, off all pharmaceuticals, taking our first family vacation since he was born—while dads in Titleist gear prepare to tee off against NFL players.

Plummer is not here. Family obligations pulled him back to Northern Idaho. But Monroe, who has rapidly become the NFL world’s most vocal cannabis advocate, is here as guest of honor.

“Players shouldn’t be punished for consuming a medicine that’s available to half our country,” he says.

Monroe then provides perspective on the NFL’s often inscrutable priorities.

“I saw recently that we changed the rules about players wearing hoodies on the field,” he says. “We have time for that but don’t have time to take care of our players’ health?”

Morgan is also here.

“I saw the CNN documentary on Charlotte, and that really brought it to my consciousness,” he says. “If this is working for kids with epilepsy, then this is viable. It could be an option for players.

“You don’t have to take it, but you should at least know about it if it’s going to help you protect your brain and body.”

Kyle Turley, Lorenzo Neal, Brandon Lloyd and Brian Schaefering are among the retired players here. While the parents swap miracle stories, the former players tell harrowing tales of suicidal and homicidal urges, chronic pain and dependency on opioids and other medications. Schaefering, a 33-year-old former Browns defensive lineman diagnosed with brain damage, shows Turley a large Ziploc bag full of prescription medication bottles. Schaefering, who wears a heavy walking boot, limps and has difficulty getting up from a seated position, is just starting to pursue cannabis-based painkillers but is still leery of reactions with his other medicines.

Plummer has seen what years in the NFL have done to his peers.

“I’m 41 years old, and I have a lot of teammates in that age rage,” he says. “You start seeing them drop off in their late 40s and early 50s.”

Plummer himself suffered more than “just” the injuries that required major post-career surgery. Late in his career, he developed extreme social anxiety from the constant public attention he received. He felt eyes on him everywhere he went.

“I got to the point where I had tunnel vision in the airport, in the grocery store,” he says. “It sucks to live like that.”

Plummer moved to Idaho for five years to “get away completely.” He returned to a state that had legalized marijuana and moved on to obsessing over more famous quarterbacks. His anxiety eased. But again, Plummer was among the lucky ones.

The retired players at Eisenhower Golf Course describe similar anxieties. Turley tells Schaefering that he used to need dark sunglasses “just to look you in the eyes.” Schaefering needs a therapy dog to help him cope in crowded, chaotic environments.

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Eugene Monroe and Kyle Turley discuss medical cannabis at the Realm of Caring golf tournament (Photo by Mike Tanier).

Depression. Anxiety. Post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms. Pain, and the effects of painkillers. A post-concussion syndrome such as CTE could cause all of these symptoms. But it doesn’t have to. The sudden shift from NFL life to retirement can cause them as well.

“You’re just cut off,” Plummer says. “No more football. No more schedule. No more camaraderie. No more achievement. You’re just in life. Sometimes that can cause a lot of anger, a lot of depression.”

The players Plummer worries most about are the ones who don’t attend golf tournaments where they can bond, vent and search for better solutions.

“You don’t know where to find them,” he says. “Some of them are just off the grid. Some of them don’t want to be reached.”

The folks at the Realm of Caring fundraiser are all cannabis advocates and true believers. Seeing is believing as formerly seizure-racked toddlers giggle and snack their way through a thunderstorm and Turley tells a television crew “finding his strain” of medical marijuana saved his life. But this is still just one side of a complex medical story.

But Vandrey’s careful, clinical studies also tell an optimistic story.

“There’s good research that has given us a signal of therapeutic efficacy,” Vandrey says.

He rattles off a list of ailments that medical cannabis might someday treat: chronic pain, PTSD, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis. The list hews closely to the ailments that plague retired NFL players.

“In my mind, there’s clear evidence that cannabinoids will be a big part of medicine moving forward,” Vandrey says. “What we need is to know how to tap into that system in our bodies.”

It’s all about honing that sledgehammer into a chisel—finding the best ways to turn a longtime party drug into a medicine that safely does the most good for the most people.

In other words, there’s a middle ground. It will take time, money and research to find it. But everyone should at least want to pursue the search.

“What we’re doing is not just for the NFL,” Plummer says. “It’s for everyone out there who still feels miserable, who still feels like s–t and their doctor just keeps giving them more stuff. It’s for those people, too. It’s for the masses, not just for NFL players and kids with seizures.”

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Photo by AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post via Getty Images

At the post-golf tournament country club dinner, the signals of efficacy are loud and clear. Realm of Caring is growing, adding staff, raising more funds and extending its reach.

Jackson takes the podium for an update on the results of CBD treatment.

“I have to tell you this year that Zaki is not well,” she says.

The crowd—including Monroe, marijuana advocates, wealthy benefactors and mothers clutching children—gasps and falls silent.

“He’s phenomenal!”

No crowd has ever cheered a touchdown with such enthusiasm.

The Option

A vial labeled “Charlotte’s Web Hemp Extract Dietary Supplement” arrives at my New Jersey home in a small white box via standard shipping. I open my purchase, squeeze a few milliliters of the stuff into the dropper, drizzle the mint-chocolatey oil onto my tongue and swallow.

No head rush. No warm giddiness. No sudden cheesesteak cravings or urge to listen to Electric Ladyland. No psychotropic effects of any kind, fun or frightening.

This substance is as similar to the aromatic green sprouts sold in Colorado dispensaries by “budtenders” who describe marijuana strains the way sommeliers recommend fine wines as the aspirin in your medicine cabinet is to a hunk of willow tree bark.

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Photo by Matt Nager / Special to Bleacher Report

It’s the basic misunderstanding at the heart of both the skepticism and the excitement surrounding medical marijuana. Pediatric nurses who administer CBD treatments complain their friends think they are blowing pot smoke into sick children’s faces. My own friends and neighbors make 420 jokes almost immediately when they hear I am working on a medical marijuana story. And critics of both NFL players and the marijuana legalization movement claim players just want an excuse to take drugs when the message Plummer, Monroe, Morgan and others are trying to send is that players want medical cannabis to help them take fewer drugs.

“No one’s talking about smoking weed all day long,” Plummer says. “We’re not advocating the use of marijuana. We’re advocating it as a pain med.”

Medical marijuana remains in its own strange cubbyhole. Heroin’s opioid cousins get to be legitimate medicines despite all of their well-known drawbacks. The contents of my liquor cabinet, which I proudly serve to grandparents and church deacons, could kill me, destroy my family or damage my health in a dozen different ways if abused.

But Monroe and Morgan cannot take a CBD-based chemical, even as an alternative to a powerful opioid after an injury, without risking the ire of the NFL. Fellow players in Denver and Seattle, where marijuana is legal recreationally, nonetheless face the same problem. Parents who give their children CBD treatments to prevent seizures risk losing them to social services in some states. I’m not 100 percent certain I was supposed to receive that little vial in New Jersey, where the governor is something of an anti-marijuana zealot.

“We try to treat cannabis different than we treat anything else,” Vandrey says. “And that’s the wrong approach.

“The problem is that it’s cannabis. It comes with this long history of political baggage, with extremely impassioned and emotional support and opposition. The politics and the passion for or against the drug are clouding people’s judgement for seeing it for what it is.”

“If someone found this compound in dandelion roots, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” Stanley says. “It would be the No. 1 go-to supplement and tool in the medical community. Unfortunately, it comes from a plant that some people literally thought had its roots in hell.”

The issues are complicated: THC versus CBD, cannabis the painkiller/potential brain protector versus the stuff we smoked behind the convenience store as teenagers, the NFL’s “keep players safe” mandate versus its “protect the shield” mandate, supplements versus medicines and the rights of adults to make their own health decisions versus the potential for adults to make bad decisions.

“IF THE NFL DOESN’T WANT TO FUND THIS RESEARCH, THEY WILL HAVE TO LOOK ME IN THE EYE AND TELL ME. THAT’S HOW THAT’S GOING TO GO DOWN.”

— Heather Jackson

“LET’S NOT GIVE THESE GUYS AN ADDICTION. LET’S GIVE THEM AN OPTION.”

— Jake Plummer

Plummer frames the football side of the issues succinctly.

“I think the NFL should at least allow an adult man who is putting his body, brain and limbs on the line for entertainment to choose between opioids, which could make him dependent for the rest of his life with lots of side effects, and an all-natural, non-addictive, non-toxic medicine just the same,” he says.

“Let’s not give these guys an addiction. Let’s give them an option.”

But Plummer acknowledges the process of providing that option starts with increased research, not just wiping marijuana off the banned substance list. It’s up to the NFL to take that first step.

“The game will suffer without some good thought put into this and without some proactive, progressive initiatives,” Plummer says.

Maybe cannabis solves the CTE dilemma, saves thousands of children from lives of misery and cures a hundred other ailments. Maybe research deflates many of the medicinal claims and/or uncovers unforeseen risks.

But doctors have prescribed medical cannabis legally in California for 20 years. Anecdotal evidence is strong and convincing. Listen to testimonials from old football players, play patty-cake with children who are not supposed to be alive, spend a day with a loved one coping with the effects of chemotherapy or in hospice care, and it seems obvious cannabis has a place somewhere in the therapeutic arsenal, for NFL players and many others.

“The possibilities of what this can do—if half of them are legit, then this isn’t a drug,” Plummer says. “This is a wonder medicine that everyone should have.”

And if the research reveals cannabis can treat CTE?

“If this has any possibility of helping out with that—oh my God,” Plummer says. “It could save the game.”

(c) Mike Tanier – bleacherreport.com