Pot or pills for pain? Most Americans approve of athletes smoking marijuana for aches, poll says

Posted at 7:32 AM, Apr 19, 2017

(CNN) -- If professional athletes turn to marijuana for pain relief, 69% of Americans say that they would approve, a new poll has found.

After all, 67% of Americans say using a doctor's prescription for an opioid painkiller poses a greater health risk than using medical marijuana, according to the Yahoo News/Marist Poll, which was released Monday.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin and pain relievers, such as oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl. Prescription opioids are generally safe when taken for a short time, but are often misused and can lead to deadly overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.



If a doctor were to prescribe marijuana, about two-thirds of Americans, 66%, said that they would be likely to use it. On the other hand, when it comes to using marijuana as a self-prescribed pain reliever, 62% of Americans in the poll said that they wouldn't light up -- even if it were legal.

"The numbers of people who see it as acceptable to use marijuana, particularly under a doctor's orders, has certainly grown," said Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll at the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York, whose team helped to conduct the new poll.

"We have seen recreational marijuana become legalized in eight states and the District of Columbia and now medical marijuana is legal in 28 states," she said. "So, this is certainly a topic that is an important one to many Americans and I think the attitudes of Americans have really been changing over time."

The poll involved 1,122 adults, 18 and older, in the United States who were asked questions about marijuana use via telephone last month.

The poll revealed that 52% of the adults said that they have tried marijuana at some point in their lives, and 83% support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

In 2013, a Pew Research Center survey found that slightly fewer Americans, 48%, said that they have ever tried marijuana and 77% saw marijuana as having legitimate medical uses.

The new poll findings come in the wake of medical marijuana shaping conversations in both the sports and politics arenas.

A lawsuit filed by more than 1,800 former National Football League players was amended last month to allege that players were negligently handed powerful painkillers, including opioids, to keep them on the field (PDF).

In response lawsuit's allegations, the NFL Players Association released a statement.

"The NFLPA is alarmed by the revelations in the lawsuit filed by former NFL players on the abuse of prescription drugs," the statement said. "While we are not a party to the case, the reporting by the Washington Post and Deadspin are cause for our continued concern and vigilance for holding the League accountable to its obligations. We will monitor this case closely and take all steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of our players."

In November, a current player and eight former players along with the organization Doctors for Cannabis Regulation published an open letter calling for the NFL to consider marijuana as "a viable pain management alternative and potential neuroprotectant."

In addition, the NFLPA has convened a pain management committee to look at alternatives to narcotic pain relievers, including marijuana.

Some experts -- including researchers at the University of Michigan and Oregon Health and Science University -- point to medical marijuana as an alternative treatment to control chronic pain with a lower risk of addiction.

For instance, medical marijuana could be prescribed in place of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain, arthritis pain, or pain associated with Crohn's disease or multiple sclerosis.

Yet, not everyone sees weed this way.

While speaking to the National Association of Attorneys General in February, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he doesn't see a need to legalize marijuana and dismissed it as a solution to the opioid epidemic.

"This is the kind of argument that has been made out there that's just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that's true. Maybe science will prove I'm wrong," Sessions said.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the US, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"It's a social issue that's reaching a tipping point among Americans," Carvalho said about marijuana use. "I think we have to see at this point whether it continues to move forward with legalization and social acceptability and/or whether there is more reaction against it."