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NFL Player Suspended a Second Time for Using Marijuana to Treat His Crohn’s Disease


Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson suffers from Crohn’s Disease, which is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. So far it has caused him to undergo surgery twice, once to remove a large part of his colon and once to reattach his intestines. He lost 50 pounds and learned he could not rely on prescription painkillers because of his intestinal problems.

So Seantrel turned to medical marijuana.

This presents a major problem since marijuana is a banned substance under the rules of the NFL even though most players feel it should be an option for medical reasons. Earlier this season Seantrel was suspended for 4 games for breaking the league’s policy on cannabis use. He and his agent decided not to appeal that ruling; now Seantrel is looking at a 10-game suspension for his second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

“Merciful or not, there is no medical exception that the NFL will accept. It doesn’t matter that Seantrel is battling Crohn’s disease, and has had his intestines outside his body,” his agent, Brian Fettner, told ESPN in September after the first suspension. “It doesn’t matter how you take it, if you digest the cannabis, that’s it. And they don’t care.”

Seantrel and his agent didn’t see much point in appealing the first time around, but now they are considering taking the NFL to court over the issue.

Seantrel had dealt with stomach pain his whole life, but things took a turn for the worse last season. “It started happening during practices and throughout the day, but it would go away,” he said. “During the season, it started getting worse.”

After his first surgery and the loss of 50 pounds, things looked bleak indeed. “I was weak,” Henderson said. “At first I couldn’t stand up on my own. I felt so weak. It was terrible. I didn’t like it at all. I kept walking and walking around the hospital.”

For a man used to using his strength to dominate defensive lineman on the football field, the new reality came as quite a shock. “You can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “Last year could have been the last year I’d ever play football. At one point, the doctors were saying I’d have to have that ileostomy bag on the rest of my life. My intestines were so poisonous on the inside.”

Henderson has found that marijuana helps him be able to play football. But his marijuana use is the very thing that leads to him not being able to avoid suspensions. He is in a no-win situation, at least until the NFL decides to revisit the issue of medical marijuana, which may not be until they return to the bargaining table with the player’s union in 2020.