National Football League Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, who has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, has been suspended for using marijuana, a violation of the NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
The Bills reported Tuesday that it has been notified by the NFL office that Henderson is suspended for the team’s next 10 regular-season and/or postseason games.
According to a report by NFL.com’s Ian Rapport, Henderson, who received a four-game suspension for a similar violation earlier in the season, lives with the inflammatory bowel disorder Crohn’s disease, and uses marijuana medically to address pain associated with the illness, for which he has had two intestinal surgeries. He unsuccessfully appealed the ruling on that ground.
With 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia having passed laws permitting medical marijuana use, and eight more having legalized the sale and possession of cannabis for both medical and non-medical use, it is being suggested that the NFL needs to revisit its substance abuse policy as it pertains to the medical use of cannabis.
Rapoport cited Henderson’s agent, Brian Fettner, explaining after the first suspension: “There is zero allowable medical exemption for this per the NFL; however, there clearly should be.”
And while there is not a large body of peer-reviewed research on treating Crohn’s and other forms of inflammatory bowel disease with cannabis, science appears to support Fettner’s assertion.
A widely cited clinical trial conducted by Timna Naftali, MD, et al, of the Meir Medical Center and Sackler Faculty of Medicine, at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2013, found that a short course (eight weeks) of THC-rich cannabis produced significant clinical, steroid-free benefits to 10 of 11 patients with active Crohn’s disease, compared with a placebo group, without side effects.
The researchers note that complete remission was achieved by five of 11 subjects in the group receiving cannabis (45%) as opposed to one of 10 in the placebo group, with a clinical response observed in 10 of 11 subjects in the cannabis group (90%) and four of 10 in the placebo group (40%). Three patients in the cannabis group also were weaned from steroid dependency. Individuals receiving cannabis reported improved appetite and sleep, with no significant side effects.
The paper, “Cannabis induces a clinical response in patients with Crohn’s disease: a prospective placebo-controlled study,” also is discussed by Austrian/German research colleagues R. Schicho, PhD and M. Storr, PhD, in an open access article published in March 2014 in the journal Pharmacology, titled “Cannabis Finds Its Way into Treatment of Crohn’s Disease.”
Schicho and Storr observed that the Israeli study shows that, as it had been largely anticipated from anecdotal reports, medicinal herb cannabis sativa lived up to expectations and proved highly efficient in treating cases of inflammatory bowel diseases and producing significant clinical benefits in patients with Crohn’s disease. They observed this first clinical trial on the effect of cannabis in IBD confirms that, as has been suggested for a long time from experimental studies, cannabinoid compounds in marijuana may provide anti-inflammatory effects and symptomatic benefit in patients with IBD, and go on to scientifically explain the biochemical processes in play.
Meanwhile, Bills tackle Henderson is out of play, his career stalled. An unnamed source cited by NFL.com’s Rapport said, “He needs cannabis. You can’t take pain killers with the way his intestines are.”