Two-time NFL All-Pro Kyle Turley is the leading advocate for marijuana use among football players. A former longtime user of pharmaceutical medicines to deal with both orthopedic and neurological issues, Turley recently discovered the benefits of medical cannabis. Now, he wants the whole world to know what he’s learned. Freedom Leaf’s Editor-In-Chief Steve Bloom had a chance to speak with Kyle and here’s what he had to say:
You’ve said, “Cannabis will save football.” How did you reach that conclusion?
I suffer from traumatic brain injury from playing this sport. I’ve seen this firsthand in multiple scans of my brain. I understand that it’s an occupational hazard. The fact that there are zero
medications to stop the progression of this condition should impel everyone to search for an answer to this problem. If we want to save football, then we’ve got to start looking at solutions, not just count concussions. Cannabis is that potential savior. Seventy percent or more of the players use cannabis in the NFL today, because they know it works.
During your playing days with the Saints, Rams and Chiefs from 1998–2007, did you use marijuana?
I started using marijuana my second year in the NFL. I was dealing with a lot of neurological issues. They were prescribing me a number of things that weren’t helping at all.
How did you deal with drug testing?
Marijuana is a once-a-year test only. You usually know when that test is coming, it’s usually before the season. Pass the drug test the NFL gives you once a year for street drugs, and you’re able to use marijuana freely. I think they know it works and they want players to use it. They just hope players won’t have it in their cars or get busted for marijuana. They’re doing a silly dance around cannabis, when they should be leading the charge.
When you suffered injuries, what kind of medications did they give you?
I was pretty much on everything for 20 years—from painkillers, to muscle relaxers, to anti-inflammatories, to psych meds. It’s been about a year now that I’ve been 100% free and clear of all those chemicals, and just using cannabis. I’m so much better. I haven’t had a fight or raged on my family in almost a year now. That’s a big deal in my house.
Did you suffer concussions?
Yes, multiple concussions.
You joined the players’ suit in 2011 vs. the NFL regarding concussions.
Yes. But the settlement doesn’t really address these issues the way it should.
You’ve said, “Marijuana could potentially prevent and postpone any damage done from concussions.” Is there actual scientific evidence to back this up?
The National Institute of Health has studies they’ve published that specifically deal with post-traumatic brain injury. Ten months ago I was diagnosed with having early-onset Alzheimer’s. I’m night-and-day different than I was a year ago.
After your football career ended, what kind of lingering physical injuries did you have?
I blew my back out, blew my knee out, blew my ankles out, blew my shoulder out. I had arthritis and sciatic nerve pain. I’ve had close to 10 surgeries already, and probably need another five more. Orthopedically, the game took its toll on me. I played in the interior line, in the trenches. But it was the neurological issues that really started surfacing in a big way. I had vertigo issues early on in my football career—as a rookie, these things started manifesting more and more, and became very frequent. Post-career, I had to deal with it daily. This ultimately put me in the hospital when I passed out eight years ago after having a seizure.
On top of that, I had emotional issues from the brain damage of the frontal lobe, which deals with decision-making, rage and emotions. It was a progression, but was pawned off as no big deal by the doctors and coaches. The orthopedic issues, I expected that. The neurological issues I didn’t expect. These are the biggest problems in our community.
Are you disabled?
I need a cane every now and then. At any moment I can throw my back out, which I’ve done multiple times. Cannabis is allowing me to get my life back. I’m back in the gym now. My emotional state is so much more positive. I’m pushing through the orthopedic pain more than I’ve been able to do over the last seven years or more. I’ve got plates and screws, bone on bone, in almost every joint. At any moment it can all fall apart, which it does sometimes. I don’t take any painkillers or muscle relaxers anymore. Cannabis has kept me from all those things.
You’ve also talked about being suicidal.
This was during the use of narcotics—psych medicines, in particular. Cannabis was the only thing that saved me from going over the edge. I’m not thinking of suicide anymore. I played football for 10 years in the NFL, in college and in high school. I beat the shit out of my brain. It is what it is. I need a medication to deal with it. Cannabis is the only medicine that deals with this injury.
It doesn’t need to be this way, and I’m furious about it. I believe my friend Junior Seau would be alive today had he been prescribed cannabis instead of the myriad of psych and pain meds they prescribed to deal with all the issues he had going on. He and every other player in the NFL that’s committed suicide may not have done so had they had cannabis as an option, as a medicine.
Are you a legal medical marijuana patient?
Yes, in California. I moved to California a year and a half ago. I’d been living in Nashville.
Do you regularly go to dispensaries?
I’ve visited a number of dispensaries. I have a good network of people I’ve met at the dispensaries and conventions. I’ve met some good growers. For me, it’s about the strain. I know now what strain I need to get through my days. I’m very particular about that.
Which strains do you prefer?
To resolve headache issues, any of the OG Kush family is best. My personal preference is the San Fernando Valley OG Kush. It knocks out a migraine headache in a minute, and is a great mood elevator, but it kind of makes you high, so I don’t use that all the time. For my daily medicinal issues, it’s a sativa-hybrid blend. Jack Herer is my personal go-to. I can smoke Jack Herer all day long and I won’t act or feel high. It resolves anxiety, light sensitivity and depression in a major way. It allows you to feel normal. My goal every day is to only smoke two joints. If I go over that, it’s no more than three or four.
Why did you found the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition?
The goal is to collect voices and guys who want to stand up for cannabis. The more guys that come together on this, we can have a group that will be able to show up at congressional hearings, and conventions around the country, to add our voices and stories. The more we have, the better we’ll be heard. Everybody’s just kind of kept quiet. The GCC allows us to step forward from behind these narratives that are our experiences.
Have any other high-profile players joined the coalition?
It’s open enrollment right now. Nate Jackson is very vocal; he’s a part of our coalition. Ricky Williams is a partner. We’ve got fresh faces like Evan Britton, who recently retired. A lot of collegiate athletes have contacted us. We’ve got a lot of big ideas, like opening treatment centers. We’re a growing organization. We just started this.
Each year, dozens of NFL players are suspended for failing marijuana drug tests or getting arrested for pot. Do you expect the NFL to change these policies anytime soon?
They haven’t done anything progressive. They’ve been very reactive.
Can there be any hope for change as long as Roger Goodell is the commissioner of the NFL?
He’s a mouthpiece for the owners. He works for them. If they do want to save football, they need to support cannabis.
Have you had any conversations or meetings with NFL officials about cannabis?
We’ve sent messages to the NFL, to the direct contact of Goodell. We haven’t heard anything back. We’ve extended every olive branch in their direction. We’ll see. It’s on their time.
What does the Players Association think of your coalition?
The Players Association is actually much worse than the NFL when it comes to any player issues. We’ve received no contact or interest from them whatsoever. This has been brought to their attention by numerous players, and met with deaf ears. I don’t expect the Players Association to do anything at all, and that’s quite unfortunate. They’re the ones that need to be rallying alongside our coalition. They’re complicit in the NFL drug testing policies pertaining to cannabis. They are quite complicit in the neglect and ignorance.
Former Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El recently said he wishes he had played baseball instead of football, and he predicts that football won’t be “around in 20, 25 years.” Does football have a future?
They can be doing so many things to save the sport, to be the dream that it was for me growing up as a kid. From what I’ve found with cannabis, I can say firmly that I would play this sport again—if I could do it all again with the knowledge that I have, and stay away from their doctors, who only have the teams’ interest at heart. I could’ve helped myself in such a greater way as a player, neurologically and orthopedically, in dealing with my issues through cannabis, rather than having made these injuries and all these other things worse by putting all these horrific chemicals into my body.
Football is going to stick around. But it risks becoming, like Malcolm Gladwell predicts, a ghettoized sport, much like boxing. That’s the direction football is heading if they continue to ignore their biggest issues.
What else can football do to protect players?
Rule changes are not going to help anything. It’s a violent sport. There’s no getting around that. I don’t want it to change. I love football. It was an unbelievable experience. People love it because of its primal origins, and everything around it that speaks to alpha males. Unfortunately, there are certain inherencies within the sport that are going to create injuries.
How long will it take for the NFL to come around on this?
As soon as the government changes its policies, the NFL will change its policy.
Meaning the end of federal marijuana prohibition?
Exactly. If the federal government approves it and they can make money on it, you better believe the NFL will exploit the shit out of it. We can’t leave cannabis on the sidelines any further. This has got to be on the field.
For more about the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition: gridironcannabis.com
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