Kyle Turley: Cannabis Can Save the NFL
Kyle Turley played football for 20 years, including 10 seasons in the NFL. His accomplishments on the field earned him recognition as an All-American in college and a selection to the NFL’s All-Pro team with the New Orleans Saints in 2000.
But the multiple concussions he sustained during his career — an all-too-common result of NFL service and the probable cause of the dreaded CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy — left him struggling with a wide array of neurological disorders, including debilitating migraines, light sensitivity, and seizures.
Turley has been a driving force behind investigations into the extent and severity of the brain injury epidemic among current and former football players. He has made it his post-career mission to raise awareness and advocate for proactive policies to address the NFL’s concussion problem.
To do that, he co-founded the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to publicize the science behind cannabis as medicine and highlight the benefits it can provide to football players coping with their injuries.
Turley spoke with SF Evergreen about how cannabis has helped him address his post-career injuries and why he believes the plant can help not only athletes, but the entire nation.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SF EVERGREEN: What inspired you to go from professional football player to full-time medical cannabis advocate?
KYLE TURLEY: My personal story with cannabis as a medicine all stems from my former career as a professional football player. Dealing with the myriad of physical and neurological injuries I sustained, I ended up on an extensive cocktail of pharmaceutical medications that were not addressing my injuries.
I played football for 20 years. It started with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, but post-football I ended up on psychiatric prescriptions to deal with the depression and anxiety I experienced as a result of my injuries. I’ve dealt with migraines, vertigo, light sensitivity…
SFE: How did discovering medical cannabis help you with your post-career injuries?
KT: I’m not on any pharmaceuticals, only cannabis. The pharmaceuticals didn’t really address my issues, they just bottled them up and repressed them.
Now I have zero rage and emotional issues, my depression is manageable, no more anxiety… my light sensitivity is being mitigated incredibly by certain strains… I’m even starting to see a number of benefits in the area of memory. Some memories are actually starting to come back.
Because of neglect, my injuries may never completely heal, but it is known now that cannabis is a neuroptotectant… tests show it’s slowing the progression of early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s and I’m hopeful it can reverse the process and build new neural pathways, which study after study shows cannabis can do.
SFE: Why do we need a football-specific medicinal cannabis project?
KT: You have a sport where roughly 96% of players when tested have some sort of brain injury… Football isn’t like other sports when it comes to head injuries. They aren’t an anomaly, they’re an inevitability.
It isn’t like soccer where you have the possibility of a collision that results in a brain injury, it’s going to happen. In some positions — like the one I played — it’s going to happen on every play, your head is going to get knocked around.
And if cannabis can help address the harmful impacts on players, it is imperative that we put NFL money in addressing this and save this sport and the people who play it.
SFE: What specific conditions does cannabis help you alleviate?
KT: I’ve gotten incredible benefits from sativas and sativa hybrids when it comes to mitigating my light sensitivity, vertigo and anxiety… a lot of the same strains used for glaucoma and ocular pressure… they don’t even really get me high. They’re very functional and let you do what you need to do.
Indicas help with headaches and migraines like nothing else… when you have severe migraines, it’s imperative that you get immediate relief without having to wait for something to move through your digestive tract. The relief is immediate and doesn’t require much material… one or two inhalations is usually all that’s needed.
I’ve never gotten anything remotely close to the immediate relief I get from cannabis from any prescription medicine. There’s nothing else out there that does what cannabis does.
SFE: Is it fair to say you see medicinal cannabis as a remedy for brain trauma itself, but also an antidote to the negative effects of pharmaceuticals?
KT: Doctors give you a cortisone shot instead of showing you the proper way to rehab your injury so they can seem like a miracle worker… they just keep you numb until eventually you seep into the depression and hopelessness that comes from the side effects.
And with cannabis, you aren’t addicted to anything. With pharmaceutical meds, from major psychiatric meds down to stuff like aspirin, all of that is addictive. It can be very difficult to quit that stuff once you’ve been using it and the impacts on your body can be devastating. Cannabis has none of those issues, zero people have died from it.
SFE: Football is the most popular sport in the United States. Roughly half the country is voicing support for some kind of cannabis legalization, but that leaves about half still on the fence or against it. How do you start the discussion with those NFL fans who aren’t supporters of cannabis medicine?
KT: It’s actually very easy to speak with the public about it, because now everybody is seeing the negative impact of all these pharmaceuticals everybody’s on… they definitely do get you high and the results can be horrifying… It isn’t just about football players, this is a national issue.
The majority of calls I get to help people are for old people. Folks who were from the ‘Reefer Madness’ world and part of it to a certain extent, but now they see the negativity in the world of prescription medication.
You don’t have to go any further than your local church to see the pain these pharmaceuticals cause, it’s right there in our communities… I think it’s actually pretty easy to have that discussion — this should be an option.