Kyle Turley has played football for 20 years, including 10 seasons in the NFL. His performances on the field earned him recognition as an All-American in college and a roster for the NFL’s All-Pro team with the New Orleans Saints in 2000.
But the multiple concussions he sustained during his career — a common result of NFL service and the likely cause of the dreaded CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy — left him struggling with a wide variety of neurological conditions, including debilitating migraines, light sensitivity and seizures.
Turley has been a driving force behind studies of the magnitude and severity of the brain injury epidemic among current and former football players. He has made it his post-career mission to raise awareness and advocate for proactive policies to address the NFL’s concussion problem.
To do that, he co-founded the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to publicize the science behind cannabis as a medicine and highlight the benefits it can bring to football players coping with their injuries.
Turley spoke to SF Evergreen about how cannabis has helped him manage his post-career injuries and why he believes the plant can help not just athletes, but the entire country.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
SF ALWAYS GREEN: What inspired you to go from professional footballer to full-time champion of medicinal cannabis?
KYLE TURLEY: My personal story with cannabis as a medicine all stems from my past career as a professional football player. The countless physical and neurological injuries I sustained left me on an elaborate cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs that failed to address my injuries.
I played soccer for 20 years. It started with painkillers and anti-inflammatories, but after football I was put on psychiatric prescriptions to deal with the depression and anxiety I was experiencing as a result of my injuries. I’ve dealt with migraines, dizziness, light sensitivity…
SFE: How has discovering medicinal cannabis helped you with your post-career injuries?
KT: I don’t use drugs, just cannabis. The drugs didn’t really solve my problems, they just crept them up and suppressed them.
Now I have no more anger and emotional issues, my depression is manageable, no more anxiety… my photosensitivity is incredibly softened by certain strains… I am even starting to see some benefits in the area of memory. Some memories are really starting to come back.
Neglect may never fully heal my injuries, but cannabis is now known to be a neuroptectant… testing shows it slows the progression of early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and I hope it can reverse the process and build new neural pathways. which study after study shows that cannabis can do.
SFE: Why do we need a football specific medicinal cannabis project?
KT: You have a sport where about 96% of the players, when tested, have some kind of brain injury… Football is not like other sports when it comes to head injuries. They are not an anomaly, they are an inevitability.
It’s not like football where you run the risk of being hit by a brain injury, it’s going to happen. In some positions – like the one I played in – it will happen on every game, your head will be knocked over.
And if cannabis can help address the harmful effects on players, it is imperative that we invest NFL money to address this and save this sport and the people who play it.
SFE: What specific conditions does cannabis help you relieve?
KT: I’ve had incredible benefits from sativas and sativa hybrids when it comes to reducing my photosensitivity, dizziness and anxiety…many of the same strains used for glaucoma and eye pressure…they don’t even get me really high. They are very functional and let you do what you need to do.
Indicas help with headaches and migraines like no other… if you have severe migraines it is imperative that you get immediate relief without having to wait for something to move through your digestive tract. The relief is instant and doesn’t require much material… one or two inhalations is usually all it takes.
I’ve never gotten anything close to the instant relief I get from cannabis from a prescription drug. There is nothing else that does what cannabis does.
SFE: Is it fair to say that you view medicinal cannabis as a remedy for brain trauma itself, but also as an antidote to the negative effects of drugs?
KT: Doctors give you a cortisone shot instead of showing you the right way to rehabilitate your injury so they can seem like a miracle worker… they just keep you sedated until you finally seep into the depression and hopelessness that follows of the side effects.
And with cannabis you are not addicted to anything. With pharmaceutical drugs, from the major psychiatric drugs to things like aspirin, it’s all addictive. It can be really hard to stop that stuff once you’ve used it and the effects on your body can be devastating. Cannabis has none of those problems, zero people have died from it.
SFE: Soccer is the most popular sport in the United States. About half of the country expresses support for some form of legalization of cannabis, but that leaves about half still on the fence or against it. How do you start the discussion with those NFL fans who aren’t supporters of cannabis drugs?
KT: It’s actually really easy to talk to the public about it because now everyone sees the negative impact of all these drugs that everyone else is taking…it definitely gets you high and the results can be horrendous…It’s not just to football players, this is a national issue.
Most of the calls I get to help people are for old people. People who came out of the ‘Reefer Madness’ world and were part of it to some extent, but now they see the negativity in the world of prescription drugs.
You don’t have to go beyond your local church to see the pain these drugs cause, it’s right there in our communities…I think it’s actually pretty easy to have that discussion – this should be an option .