David Irving Spearheads Movement for Cannabis Use in NFL and Beyond
In his first season with the Dallas Cowboys, defensive tackle David Irving suffered a wrist fracture that ended his season. Like thousands of players have done before in the NFL, he went to the team doctors.
“I went in and I got it looked at right away and they said it was a small fracture and I’d be good in four-six weeks,” Irving said. “Six weeks go by and I’m thinking, ‘Man this isn’t really getting much better.’ I had a brace and I couldn’t really move it at first and it was swollen really bad.”
Weeks go by with no positive results.
“I still couldn’t hold a five-pound weight in my hand,” Irving said. “So I called (the doctors) and I said, ‘Hey guys this still isn’t getting better and it’s been six weeks. They said just give it another four weeks it’s just a weird spot where it’s broken.”
Another four weeks go by. No results.
“I still couldn’t do a push-up,” Irving said. “I couldn’t press against the wall, I couldn’t grip a basketball and I said something’s up.
Irving was told to go get a CT scan. Once he had the results, the Cowboys flew him back where they found he had a broken bone and torn ligament.
Irving turned to marijuana as a way to heal the injury and while he admits it will never heal fully, he still is able to live his life and train no problem.
“They just didn’t see it because of all of the swelling,” Irving said. “I can do pushups now and I lift weights regularly no problem.”
Irving has made it his mission since stepping away from football to educate the world on cannabis and its benefits as well as to end the stigma against it.
Former NFL players and future hall of famers have also began stepping out in support of CBD and its benefits. Including former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski who Irving is so happy to see is on his side.
“I love the fact that (Gronkowski) is stepping out,” Irving said. “I feel like this is a huge issue and we all need to step out and as long as we’re making it a huge deal and sticking with it for the next CBA and redo all these things and rules.”
His quick recoveries made him a favorite among his coaches in Dallas for his reliability.
“That was one of the things that impressed my coaches a lot,” Irving said. “It’s clearly good for recovery and you have to recover fast in the NFL.”
In the National Football League, Irving says he can estimate that over three quarters of the player population is on CBD or smokes marijuana.
“You have to recover fast and I think that’s why 80 percent of us do use (marijuana),” Irving said.
Irving went as far to claim that out of 53 players on a roster, 45 probably smoke or use cannabis. That is equivalent to the maximum amount of players you can field on game day.
Irving started smoking before he was a teenager after running into it accidentally.
“I started smoking at about 12-years old, I just stumbled across it,” Irving said. “Didn’t really know what it was, didn’t really know how it was helping me.”
Since he started smoking marijuana, Irving has maintained a clean record.
“I never got in trouble with the law (smoking marijuana), never failed any drug tests until the Cowboys,” Irving said.
Irving did not start researching the effects of marijuana and how it could be used medically until he was out of high school.
“I started looking into marijuana uses and its effects when I was in college,” Irving said. “I started putting it together that, ‘Man, I’ve been medicating this whole time.’ You always put it together that you feel better after practice or whenever you’re sore but I didn’t really look at it in a medical way until college.”
While playing at Iowa State, Irving continued to smoke when he could to help self medicate. When the season began the National Collegiate Athletic Association made it impossible for him to use marijuana in-season.
“I used when I could, the NCAA was testing year-round,” Irving said. “But they did not test in the summer so I was a summertime smoker in college.”
His success with the Cowboys did not stop his hunger for more knowledge about what was helping keep him on the field.
“When I was in the NFL, I just kept looking more into it and how CBD (Cannabidiol) a component of weed is a neuroprotectant,” Irving said. “Most people don’t know that.”
Concussions are constant Irving claims and there are many that the average fan does not know about when they watch the game.
Irving in his experience with medications prescribed in his time with the NFL, found temporary relief, but not long-term.
“We have concussions all the time and the opioids that they give us in the NFL will help with the pain but it won’t help for your brain,” Irving said. “CBD alone helps with your brain, it helps with inflammation, so when you have a twisted ankle or whatever it may be, that’s going to help.”
Irving also revealed shocking details about player concussions and what fans do not see or know about.
“I have gotten countless concussions and (the fans) only hear about the ones we have to report,” Irving said. “There are concussions we get as players and we say, ‘Forget it man, they’re in hurry up offense let’s go’ and you play through it.”
Irving also revealed the inefficiency of the league’s new concussion protocol.
“It’s bull,” Irving said. “You go to the sideline and they’ll say, ‘Hey what’s today?’ I know what day it is no matter how messed up my head is. They’ll have you remember three numbers and you have to recall those numbers 30 seconds later and if you do, you’re ok to play. It’s B.S. I’ve had full blown concussions and can still answer all of the questions. I know what month we’re in, I know it’s a Sunday because we’re playing football. (They ask), ‘Where are you?’ I know where I’m at and they’ll say, ‘Oh you’re good to go out there and play.’ I’m like, ‘No I’m not, everything that’s supposed to be white looks like a highlight or yellow color, I’m not supposed to be out there but hey if you need me let’s go.'”
Irving has been put on numerous medications. Some simultaneously. The list includes xanex, seroquel, ambien and more to help combat pain and help with sleep.
Using marijuana though has eliminated the need for Irving to pop those pills altogether.
“The good thing about marijuana is, I can substitute all of those pills with it and it covers everything,” Irving said. “It’s natural, it’s safe, it’s free and I’ve always been known for getting over my injuries very fast and I’ve always smoked weed too so it goes hand and hand.”
In 2017, Irving had his best season. His seven sacks were the best among defensive tackles in the NFL that year. He achieved those numbers even with a quarter of the season lost with his first suspension for using marijuana.
In 2018, he was suspended again for the first four games for violating the substance abuse policy.
In 2019, Irving was suspended indefinitely and announced his retirement from the NFL for his stance against the league’s drug policy.
What does the league have against marijuana and their players using it? Irving believes that it all stems from politics and stigma.
“Part of the reason (is the big pharmaceutical companies and the NFL being tied together) but not only that. I believe it’s also a way to limit our income,” Irving said. “If you ask me in the NFL, there’s a lot of politics involved. People still have this negative bias towards people who smoke marijuana and I feel like it’s a way for them to save money.”
Irving used his own career as an example.
“Had I not been in trouble with the league, I would say I was an 100 million dollar man,” Irving said. “Then they say, ‘Well if he smokes weed, now he’s a 70 million dollar man and if he gets caught smoking weed again he’s a 40 million dollar man and it’s a way to make their money back.”
Irving claims the NFL watches you like a kettle of hawks once you are caught the first time.
“It’s a way for them to make their money back,” Irving said. “Because once you get in trouble and fined, they’ll take as much as they possibly can and there’s nothing you can do about it because what we agreed to and signed for in the last (collective bargaining agreement).”
Irving claims that when it came to the rules and the players in the game today that do smoke privately, the NFL would not be around.
“Literally right now, if all the weed smokers just came out of the closet and just smoked, there wouldn’t be an NFL,” Irving said. “They would have to change the laws immediately because what are they going to do? Suspend 80 percent of the league?
Prescription based medicines in 2017 according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, killed 130 people a day. The entire year saw over 1.7 million people deal with substance abuse disorders from prescription painkillers alone.
There has yet to be overdose death caused by using marijuana.
“The only thing that comes to mind is that the NFL is in bed with the pharmaceutical companies pushing painkillers,” Irving said. “Because there is a market here with NFL players who are always in pain.”
When the argument is made that marijuana is a gateway drug to more potent substances, Irving scoffs at that based off of his experiences.
“The Cowboys sent me to rehab for smoking weed and there I met a lot of people who were on those harder drugs,” Irving said. “I have so many people hitting me up that are recovering addicts telling me how weed saved their life, how if it wasn’t for weed they’d still be doing crack, heroine, whatever.”
To spread awareness and to educate people on marijuana and the usage of the herb, Irving founded the website cannabispassport.ca shortly after his indefinite suspension from the league.
“A co-founder and I came up with the idea, he’s out of Canada and brings people together,” Irving said. It’s a passport that promotes community and being a part of it and raising awareness, it’s a cannabis passport.”
The passport itself looks like one issued to you to travel throughout the world to identify where you are coming from. This one however comes with rolling paper that has information about the benefits of using.
“The unique thing is, it comes with a roll of 100 hemp papers with soy filtered tips and these papers also (double) as an advocacy magazine,” Irving said. “So you put your own filters in the joints and we blend information with them, things that let you know about prohibition, the war on drugs, how opiates are bad for you and how weed is better for you. It’s a cool thing we got going.”
The books are themed as well based off of the time of the year. For example, when October rolls around, the passports will be pink to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month or with Black History Month, they will throw Martin Luther King Jr. in the booklet.
“We talk about how CBD has helped breast cancer patients,” Irving said. “Whatever it may be.”
Irving voiced his enthusiasm and interest in addressing the NFL and the NFLPA at the next CBA meeting.
“I’d love to, I feel like I’d be the best person to do it,” Irving said. “I have our player’s best interests at heart and I know, I’ve been through it. The good and the bad in the NFL and I’m living how these rules can hurt your career and as a person physically and mentally. I know what needs to be said, I know what we want and I’m going to fight for it.”
Irving has had many people from retired vets, athletes to recovering addicts reach out to him about his cause. One instance sticks out in his mind that has made his journey and fight to him worth it.
“I had a girl in the gym speak to me who was 18-19 years old, she came to me and said, ‘Hey you’re David Irving’ and I said, ‘Yes I am,'” Irving recounted. “She was like, ‘I just want to thank you for what you did, and I wish you would have done it earlier’ she said, ‘My sister just lost her life overdosing on painkillers and I was trying to get her to smoke weed instead and she loved the Cowboys but more importantly she loved you.’ We’re from the same city and then she said, ‘Had you done this before, she’d probably still be alive.'”