Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon smoked marijuana long before the drug was legalized.
“[Former Bears coach] Mike Ditka would say, ‘Oh, all you guys, you pot smokers,’ That’s what he’d call us. ‘You pot smokers.’ ” McMahon said Sunday. “We’d say, ‘It’s better than being drunk out here. We’re still functioning.’ ”
But it wasn’t until McMahon moved to Arizona seven years ago that he began to see marijuana as a way to handle the aches and pains of being a former NFL player — and worse, the effects of repeated concussions.
McMahon, 56 and 30 years removed from leading the Bears to a Super Bowl victory, spoke Sunday on a “Cannabis and Athletics” panel at the Southwest Cannabis Conference and Expo at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
“I have arthritis pretty much in all my joints,” McMahon, a 15-year NFL player, told the Star-Telegram before the roundtable discussion. “My head problems have been pretty severe at times. [Marijuana] makes all that pain go away. I just forget about the pain.”
Former NFL players Ricky Williams (an ex-Texas Longhorn) and Marvin Washington joined McMahon in the hour-long discussion.
Washington, a Dallas native and a partner with the medical marijuana company HempMeds, also announced the launch of a cannabis product that won’t be a violation of drug tests. Applied through creams and pills, it contains cannabidiol (CBD), but not tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
“We want to get the athletes on a plant-based product, instead of getting on the opioids and pharmaceuticals,” Washington said. “There’s two main chemicals in the marijuana plant: One is psychotropic, and that’s THC, which our product has nothing. The other is CBD, which has been shown to have medicinal benefits.”
“My head problems have been pretty severe at times. [Marijuana] makes all that pain go away. I just forget about the pain.” former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon
‘I’d use cannabis to chill’
The way athletes recover and cope with pain was central to Sunday’s panel.
Both McMahon and Williams, 38, emphasized medical marijuana as a safer, more effective alternative to painkillers.
“We’d have to take pills on a daily basis just to practice,” Williams told the crowd. “That’s when I promised myself I was going to find another way to practice.”
He said he first started using marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2002, his first season with the Miami Dolphins and the year he led the NFL in rushing yards.
“I’d get home from practice and my body would be hurting and my mind would be racing,” he said. “I’d use cannabis to chill and get some sleep.”
When he tested positive for marijuana in spring 2004 and faced a four-game suspension, Williams retired, choosing to study holistic medicine at a small California college. He returned to football a year later but failed a another drug test, and the NFL suspended him for the 2006 season.
“Sometimes you have to make choices that aren’t popular choices and deal with the consequences,” Williams said Sunday.
Four years since retiring for good, he remains healthy.
‘No doubt’ about CTE
McMahon, though, suffers from a routine buildup of fluid in his head. The problem, McMahon said he found, stems from two “cracked and compressed” vertebrae and two vertebrae that are twisted 25 degrees.
“So I had a broken neck at some point in my career that nobody told me about,” he said. “That’s actually sticking out in the spinal column. That’s another blockage area there.”
Every few months, he sees a New York chiropractor, who performs a brief procedure that “vibrates the bone enough to let the fluid out,” he said.
McMahon knew three former players — ex-teammates Dave Duerson and Andre Waters and Junior Seau — who committed suicide and were later found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma, such as concussions.
Doctors can’t test someone for CTE until they die. But McMahon said there’s “no doubt” he has the disease.
Still, he isn’t trying to scare players away from the game. He said he’d play again if he had the choice. He recommends boys play flag football until high school. But he said the NFL has to push players away from using painkillers.
“When I was playing ball, there was all these pharmaceuticals they were giving you, which are not good for you,” he said. “I had to get off those pills.”
McMahon said he often smokes marijuana in the mornings and at night, to help him sleep. He prefers indica, a marijuana known for better treating physical pain. He said he uses edibles, too, especially when he travels.
“But I’m old school,” he said. “I love the smell of it. I love the taste of it. So I smoke it quite a bit.”