Marijuana’s use as a replacement for opioids is a hot topic, and it’s no hotter than in the sports world, where athletes deal with injuries and are routinely prescribed pills for pain. Dr. Sanjay Gupta discussed this issue at length in his latest CNN documentary, Weed 4: Pot vis. Pills.
Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph, the Chicago White Sox’s team physician and the Chicago Bulls’ associate team physician, agrees with Gupta that cannabis is a safer treatment than opioids. “I’ve been an orthopedic surgeon for almost 30 years,” says Bush-Joseph, who’s also a professor at Rush Medical College and associate director of their Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Program.
“I take care of a lot of athletes. I come at this from a perspective of the value of medical cannabis in treating pain and symptoms that people have and often athletes can have, after sustaining severe or significant injuries with disabling symptoms. It’s not unusual for many of these patients to devolve into using narcotics and opioids on a regular basis. I’ve always felt that medical cannabis can provide a great deal of pain relief for patients who’ve got chronic symptoms and still want to participate in recreational or even competitive activities.”
DR. BUSH-JOSEPH: “I would expect all the professional leagues in time to discontinue marijuana testing. I would expect that to go away gradually.”
Bush-Joseph and two other doctors formed Physicians Against Injurious Narcotics (PAIN). The organization backs the legislative effort to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis as an alternative to opioids and addicts to apply for medical-marijuana cards. On April 27, the Illinois Senate voted 44-6 in favor of this amendment to the state’s medical marijuana program. Intractable pain disease was added as a condition in February.
Bush-Joseph lists the following benefits of cannabis over opioids as a pain treatment:
- “It’s a naturally occurring substance that is very safe.”
- “It allows for restfulness and sedation and decreases anxiety.”
- “It can substantially enhance recovery.”
“I know many, many athletes who use cannabis for medical reasons and some for recreational use,” he adds.
DR. BUSH-JOSEPH: “I’ve always felt that medical cannabis can provide a great deal of pain relief for patients who’ve got chronic symptoms and still want to participate in recreational or even competitive activities.”
Unlike the NFL, Major League Baseball is not very strict about players’ marijuana use. “The league is getting much more relaxed although not entirely, about the use of ‘perceived drugs of abuse,’ because they give a player an advantage over another player in competition,” Bush-Joseph explains. “Medically speaking, there’s no perceived performance enhancement. What we’re talking about are the benefits of recovery and allowing players to avoid other more dangerous methods of treatment. In general, I would expect all the professional leagues in time to discontinue marijuana testing. I would expect that to go away gradually.”
Down the road, he also hopes the medical community will be able “to perform scientific studies to find out specifically where there is greater value in muscle strain recovery or athlete endurance recovery. There are a variety of areas we can study where it would have potential benefit. My expectation is that after we go through this legalization cycle we’re in now, we’re going to be able to find more specific target areas where we think cannabis is going to have great benefit to athletes.”
In January, Chicago magazine named Dr. Bush-Joseph one of the area’s top docs. He lives in Hindsale, about 20 miles west of the Windy City.
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