Eugene Monroe on NFL, CTE and How Weed Changed His Life

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Eugene Monroe on NFL, CTE and How Weed Changed His Life Former Ravens tackle talks to Rolling Stone about the role marijuana has played in managing the pain he's still dealing with from his career in the NFL. "I don't take any pharmaceutical drugs," says Eugene Monroe. "I've been managing my pain with marijuana." Rob Carr/Getty

Eugene Monroe announced his retirement from the NFL on July 21st, 2016, about one month after his release from the Baltimore Ravens.

Like many players who have recently made the decision to retire at an early age, Monroe cited concerns over his long-term health as the primary reason for leaving the game he loves at only 29 years old. While he was a durable player before he arrived in Baltimore, a number of injuries forced him to miss a total of 20 regular season games over his three seasons with the Ravens. To this day, he still claims to be feeling the effects of one particular concussion he suffered in Week One of the 2015 season.

As the first active NFL player to advocate for medical marijuana, Monroe was vocal about his retirement plans as soon as the Ravens released him: “Whatever happens in terms of my professional football career, I will never stop pushing for the League to accept medical cannabis as a viable option for pain management,” he said in a statement. “I will do everything I can to ensure the generations of NFL players after me won’t have to resort to harmful and addictive opioids as their only option for pain management.”

Rolling Stone recently spoke to Monroe about the toll competing in the NFL has taken on his body and the role marijuana has played in his pain management.

You’ve been retired for just over a year now. How are you feeling? Have you had any long-term effects from playing in the NFL?

After a year of not playing, I’m still doing all of the same things that I needed to in terms of rehab exercises and therapy, even though I’m not playing. The injuries that I have had are still certainly things that I continue to manage daily. You ask how I feel – I’m still hurting. That’s not to say I’m complaining. However, on a daily basis, I have to spend a lot of time just doing things to take care of myself.

Is that general physiotherapy?

I retired and decided that I wanted to drop all of the weight. I wasn’t playing ball anymore, so I didn’t need to carry all the excess weight that I did as an offensive lineman. I changed my diet, eating borderline vegan. In efforts to preserve my knees, I started cycling because there’s less impact. So I do a lot of cycling for exercise and a ton of resistance band-based workouts, light weight workouts, just stuff to stay strong but keeping in mind that I’m dealing with some injuries so I’m not going overboard by any means.

In fact, I might need to address some of my injuries surgically as well, some of the same injuries that I’ve had that I was able to play through but over time they are just becoming a bigger issue. Every time you get hurt when you play, you don’t miss competition. You can have an injury and fight through it. Ultimately, I’m finding that although I played through tons of injuries, even the ones that might have felt like they were okay are not, so I’m needing to address them.

Despite those injuries, I believe you said you were 100 percent pharmaceutical free. Is that correct?

Absolutely. I don’t take any pharmaceutical drugs. I’ve been managing my pain with marijuana. I’ve been very open about that. It’s been a much better experience. I don’t feel like I’m reliant on it. When I do need relief, I can get it almost immediately. I don’t experience any of the side effects that the pharmaceutical drugs put me through. The reason why I stopped taking those pills, particularly after my last shoulder surgery, was because I was having issues taking oxycodone. Not only the gastrointestinal issues I had from them, but they started to affect my mind a little bit too. Luckily I noticed that and stopped taking them. And since then, I haven’t taken any pharmaceutical drugs.

A lot of NFL players have talked about the horror stories they’ve had with opioids. Keith McCants admitted to Vice that he took 183 pills a week and didn’t know the effect those would have on his body at the time. In your case, how many pills were you taking a week on average when you were in the NFL whether you were dealing with an injury or not?

I did not have an abuse problem. I’m fortunate in that regard. But I did take those pills whenever the doctor prescribed them. And really, it was often because I dealt with a lot of injuries. I had some injuries that created some chronic issues. Whether they would flair up or I would tweak it in practice, they caused a great deal of inflammation first, so the team doctor would address that with prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs and as well as sometimes prescribing Vicodin or oxycodone to deal with the pain from those injuries. For various injuries, I did take opioids. Fortunately, I didn’t deal with addiction or anything, but I did understand that it was a possibility.

You said it — there’s guys who have said they’ve taken well over 100 pills a week. We do know that over time the strength of those drugs tends to wean away as you take them consistently. People tend to need higher and more potent doses of opioids for them to be effective.

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