Kyle Turley is a two-time NFL All-Pro lineman whose ten years in the league took him from New Orleans and St. Louis to Kansas City. A lifetime of football left Kyle with countless lingering medical issues, from chronic back, knee and nerve pain to mental issues associated with years of high contact sports. However, when it came to medical cannabis, Kyle never considered it an option until his third year in the NFL. Up until that point, he was forced, like most other athletes, to treat his medical issues with a myriad of addictive, prescription painkillers designed to mask his injury rather than contribute to its healing. Then one day, while in his normal state of high-level pain, a future NFL Hall of Fame teammate handed him some cannabis and told him that it would help him. This moment may have saved Kyle’s life.
The NFL is a dangerous, full contact sport and the repercussions from playing years in the league are being substantiated through an incredibly high percentage of Alzheimer’s and CTE cases in retired NFL athletes. However, research is showing that medical cannabis might quite possibly be the solution to this problem, a solution that would help lengthen player careers and assist in the treatment of athletes once they retire. If this research is proven to be true, which leading researchers are claiming will happen in the foreseeable future, then everyone wins. The business that is the NFL will see longer playing careers, and retired athletes will face significantly lower Alzheimer, CTE and suicide rates. Kyle Turley knows, through experience, the impact medical cannabis can have for a player, both during his career and in retirement. He is working to become one of the biggest advocates in the medical cannabis community.
Listen to the Kyle Turley interview below!
First off, could you share with us why you chose to get involved with the cannabis industry once you exited the NFL?
I would say my environment impacted my decision, as well as my experience since moving back to California, my music background, and living in Nashville the last six years. Since playing in the national football league, everywhere I’ve been, it’s just been hit or miss with what I’ve been able to get in terms of medical cannabis.
Coming to California was something that was really important in this process, to be able to get involved with medicinal cannabis, have the opportunity to explore different strains, and really get to the bottom of what it is that cannabis does for me specifically.
I’ve always had this idea that this plant has something very special for me, and that I’ve had certain strains that worked better for me than others. When I lived back in the mid-west, my options were limited and I would just get it when I could. You never knew what you were getting, whom it’s coming from or where it came from. Every now and then, you’d get one of those magic strains, and everything would just be perfect.
I knew that opportunity was waiting for me out here in California with medicinal cannabis. Moved back here, and just went after it. I’ve been stricken on these pharmaceuticals for too long. I really gave them the opportunity that they deserved, time they deserved, to see if they worked. Things just weren’t being dealt with using those medications. It was just a constant roadblock, one after the other, of these things minimally addressing the issues, and ultimately then just experiencing unbelievably negative side effects that were being listed on these bottles.
It was imperative that I went on my search and found what I found. That’s what brought me to the industry. I’ve found the strains that work best for me and it has allowed me to rid myself completely of pharmaceuticals, be completely back to myself again and live a life in a much better way than I was headed.
My focus, personally, is to continue my efforts with the group ‘Gridiron Cannabis Coalition.’ Myself, Michael Cindrich and Matt Bucciero got together on this project down in San Diego. Michael’s an executive director of San Diego NORML, and a very successful cannabis attorney.
It’s important in this that you get your bases covered. I’ve got a great group of people around me and our focus is to advance this medicinally. What I’ve found, by going to dispensaries, and I don’t mean to offend anyone, but they’re in the hood, they’re not in the good parts of town. If I’ve been able to find what I’ve found, dealing with this system the way it is, where I have to plan my day around driving into certain parts of town, there is something wrong with this system.
Like I said, no offense, it’s a free country, you do whatever you want to do. Unfortunately, those in power have been able to dictate that this is something that stays in the dark. I want to bring this to the light. I want to bring this to the table that it needs to be at, because this is a medicine, and it’s been proven to me personally. I believe that it will be a medicine that will ultimately save the game of football.
You had a very charismatic NFL career and been quoted as saying that cannabis has allowed you to ‘take that intensity down a notch.’ When did you realize that it could help you that way?
My personal experience with cannabis didn’t start until I was 23 years old. I grew up very dedicated to sports and the dream of a professional career. Making that happen led to sacrifice. While my friends participated in recreational use in high school and in college, I was very focused, and determined to accomplish this dream.
Unfortunately, it came along with a heavy price. The injuries started to pile up. About my second year in the NFL, because I was always afraid of drug testing, and just shaming my name, for something that I didn’t necessarily need to do, and because it wasn’t allowed, I didn’t do it. I stayed away from cannabis.
Two years in, I had some serious issues. I was having serious vertigo issues that were surfacing, and a lot of emotional issues, a lot of rage and uncontrollable anger, etc., that was really starting to surface away from the game, and it was coming home with me. That was starting to become who I was.
I needed something to address those issues. I was going through a divorce at the time. Things were just really in a weird state for me. The doctors were giving me all these drugs. They were pumping me full of sleep aids, and pain killers, and all these other things, these chemicals. I wasn’t getting any relief. Those were just masking agents to what was going on.
It wasn’t until I rode home with a teammate, who’s now in the hall of fame, who said, “KT, you need to smoke this, man, because this will help you sleep, this will help you get through this.” Sure enough, it did.
When he explained to me how you could successfully treat yourself in the league, because I didn’t understand the NFL drug testing policy. I was always the guy that was getting tested randomly. I grew up Mormon. I was as clean as you get, I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t do anything. They put me on the testing list all the time, so I never wanted to risk it.
When I found out that I’d already taken the test, and the NFL had repeatedly told me that once I’d passed, then I was good to go, I quickly took cannabis into my life as medicine. I started to use it to help me get back to me off the field.
The sport of football is something that can really make you believe that that’s the real world, and that that’s how you should act in the world. It’s unfortunately not.
Obviously you are well versed in the testing policy from your time in the league. What are your thoughts on the cannabis policy in the NFL now? It’s supposed to be one of the tightest policies in the professional sports leagues, but it seems like it’s pretty easy to navigate.
To this day, they still only have a once-a-year test for street drugs: cannabis, cocaine, anything. It goes to show you how serious they are about it. The NFL drug policy has always been a, “Let’s weed out the morons,” type of deal. It’s a once a year situation.
If you can’t quit or get off it before training camp so you can pass this test, and then the rest of the year keep your cool, then you’re going to prove to be a guy we don’t want to have on our team, because you’re just someone who is taking big, unnecessary risks off the field, and it’s going to hurt the team.
In the past, this test has been used, and still to this day, is used to just weed out those guys that they don’t want around, and that that’s something that’s going to get them in trouble eventually. The NFL hopes, I guess, by putting players who test positive in their drug treatment programs and so on, that they can change these people, but at the end of the day, that’s what it’s for.
Understanding that this is the status of the league, you’ve just got to just be a normal person and understand when you can medicate and when you can’t. It’s basically just being a grown and responsible person.
To get around the NFL drug policy with cannabis is not hard. I know coaches that were using it. Coaches, after games, after practices, would be around situations with players using cannabis. This is widely used. You can’t tell me Jim Irsay up in Indianapolis doesn’t have a jar of it in his house.
It’s unfortunate that they’ve gone along with the government on this, but they’ve gone along with the government on a lot of other things.
During your career and in your retirement, how has cannabis help you deal with your issues, your pain?
Again, back to when I first introduced it to my life, I was going through a lot of issues, a lot of emotional issues and sleep deprivation. I had to use something. The sleep aids, all the other things that they were giving me, weren’t working.
Then, post-career, I got put on psych meds and all kinds of things because of this brain injury thing that is very, very real. It has created even bigger problems as the years have gone on.
I gave all of these pharmaceuticals their opportunity to do their job. I’ve kept cannabis on the shelf and given these drugs their opportunity at times. Cannabis has proven to be the one drug, or medicine I like to say, because I call all those other things (prescription pills) drugs, and I like to call myself drug free today. Going on six months, I haven’t taken any pharmaceuticals, I haven’t taken an aspirin, pain reliever or anything else.
I’m realizing more and more, I never needed any of that stuff. Prescription drugs are just masking issues and creating bigger problems all at the same time.
What I’ve found over the years, even from my first introduction with cannabis, was that it could help me get back to where and who I was before the injuries and treatments changed me.
In New Orleans, St Louis and Kansas City, cannabis was only as good as what you could get when you could get it. Every now and then, as I mention before, you would come across some amazing strains, where everything would feel great. The pain would be gone, it seemed like inflammation was going down immediately, and your mind just completely feels normal again.
For us as football players and somebody who’s put their time in the trenches, like I did, it’s an unbelievable release when you find that strain of cannabis that helps you. My experience has been great, unique, and personal, to the degree where it’s taken me to where I cannot deny the impact.
Again, if I can found what I’ve found here in this ridiculous environment that they’ve put us in with medicinal cannabis, imagine where can we go with research and development? That’s where I’m focused. To really explore the possibilities of medical cannabis, to take it to the levels it needs to get to so the right physicians, doctors and scientists can progress this to the exact science that it needs to be progressed to.
I don’t want to go around and be high all the time. I’ve got strains where I’m not. My strain in particularly, that addresses my most severe issues, doesn’t get me high. It’s something that addresses these issues on a level that I’ve never experienced before, and I am completely functional.
All the other drugs that were given to me made me way worse off and higher than any strain of cannabis has ever made me, in a bad away. There’s other strains that I have that are my time to roll one up, relax, talk to God and get my mind right, because it just takes you there. That’s where I’m at. I’ve already thought through this. The levels and the stages it took to get to where I am. I’m really excited about where medical cannabis can go.
Research has shown that cannabis, CBD, and hemp can possibly impact health and brain function among athletics. Do you think that players in the NFL could have a longer career if cannabis was more of a viable treatment?
Most definitely. The science that is coming out, you mentioned CBD. CBD alone has been groundbreaking. I brought home some CBD products from the last convention I attended and my wife, who doesn’t do cannabis at all, and only every now and then has a glass or wine or a beer, is seeing very positive results. She’s sleeping better and having dreams that she hasn’t had since she was a kid. Just that little positive reaction in itself is crazy to me.
I’ve found personally, from dealing with specific strains and their impact on me, that I firmly believe cannabis will save football. If this plant can address the issues that I have, then I know it can help to save football. It’s something that I believe will be prescribed to players post-concussion, or even during the season, for that matter.
If we can finally get cannabis to the science it need to get to and determine how much THC we really need as opposed to the other medicinal parts of the plant, because it does have, in certain strains, a high medicinal factor, we can resolve the issues surrounding its application. How much of it do we exactly need? We can cut down that euphoria, we can create a medicine that doesn’t get you high, or just makes you feel perfect, normal and great while at the same time addressing brain injury like nothing else can.
Our government owns a medicinal patent on cannabis for a neuro-protectant, and an anti-inflammatory. Those are two things that somebody in the government and their departments understands very well, at least enough to have gone down and filled out the application to own the medicinal patent on it.
Those are two things that myself, and my brothers, and our family, need the most. This is a very serious issue, and I’m approaching it from outside of the cannabis arena. I’m not selling a product. I have been an unbelievable spokesperson and I’m out there on the front lines, letting people understand the serious nature of this brain injury that we get from playing football.
It is what it is. I don’t want to stop football from being played. I want to help it. I think cannabis can actually be the thing that saves it, allows our kids to play it. It will allow them to receive the head injuries that they’re ultimately going to receive from it, because that’s inevitability, and yet be able to recover from it.
Right now, we don’t have anything to do that. Cannabis has proven, in study after study, to be the one thing out there that is slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s a football disease right now. We are owning that disease. The male population is being decimated because of that disease too early in life.
How much faith do you have in the NFL to adopt a policy once the evidence is presented? What do you think has to happen?
Ultimately, they’re going to follow what the government does. The NFL has shown over and over to not be a group that is focused on leadership. Their only focus is to follow what the populace wants them to do.
That’s what my charge is. My charge is to take cannabis away from the old pothead, stoner perception and really bring this to the arena that it belongs, and that’s as a medicine. This can’t be denied. From the results people are getting from the kids with all these diseases, to the soldiers that are being saved. We have an unbelievable suicide rate that is out of control and cannabis can be the solution.
With our football community as well as other sports in general, injured athletes are just being handed these pharmaceuticals that have unbelievable consequences to them in addition to high statistics of other illnesses, diseases, and death. It is past time that we put this where it needs to be and about time that athletics actually own this
I think the NFL then, ultimately, if enough athletics stand behind this, won’t be able to deny it. I think that you’ll see the legislation be pushed heavily on the athlete’s side. You are, I am, we all are tired of watching our heroes become Junior Seau. That happened because of an injury he didn’t know he had, and that they don’t want to talk about. All the medications that they were giving to him to help deal with that, because they wanted to pin it on something else.
How they continued to have commercials for a drug that is killing people left and right all day long, and talk about alcohol. Eventually, the cannabis market in the economy will ultimately be the strained vote. When the cannabis world has enough money and the ability to buy commercials during NFL football games. That’s when they’ll give in.
Currently, the NHL is the only of the four major sports that has no testing policy. It’s a high contact sport, just like the NFL. What do you think when you look at something like the NHL, and you’re like, “They don’t even have a policy? Why is the NFL not like the NHL?” Have you ever made that comparison?
It would be interesting to examine that and talk to the players. Medicinal cannabis is nationwide in Canada. That being the place where hockey is pretty much the game, the sport, the homeland. I would dare say that the majority of players are using medicinal cannabis over all the opiates and everything else.
That being the case, why have a drug policy if your players aren’t going to be taking these drugs? They don’t want to take these drugs.
Hockey has an understanding of this brain injury as well. They share a very common bond with football players. Their suicide rates have been off the charts as well in key certain positions. The enforcer position has been a position that has been notoriously linked to suicide. These are the guys that fight, these are the guys that receive more brain injuries.
The NHL understands cannabis within their community. They’ve understood the prescription drug gateway. They’ve experienced the outcome of all the other street drugs that aren’t doing anybody any good.
You’ve got the ability to use cannabis. I believe that the majority of people in the world would stop the use of all street drugs, for the most part, because why risk it, why have those horrible chemicals in your body?
I think that cannabis is the key, personally, to eliminating the necessary need for people out there to drug test their employees, and everything else. At the end of the day, cannabis is going to rule, it’s going to shut everything down, and the pharmaceutical industry is going to go away.
People can find their strains, and they can find what I’ve found. I don’t see how any person, outside someone who’s just hell bent on being a burnout, is going to live an unsuccessful life. Cannabis is going to produce the most successful people our country’s ever seen.
Evidence supporting what Kyle just said can be found here, a recent study showed that in the 23 states in which a medical cannabis program was initiated, the amount of opioid deaths by overdose has gone down. That’s prescription drugs and other opioids.
What is your entrepreneurial life like outside of the cannabis industry? What are you up to?
I’ve got two kids and the wife, going on 15 years of marriage. We’ve got a six year old and a four year old who both just started school. Everything revolves around the kids. That’s where it starts. For me, it’s family first.
Outside of that, I’m very focused on these efforts right now, working with the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition. We’ve got Ricky Williams on board and we’re rallying members across the country right now to be chapter members. Hopefully grow this thing to work. That’s taken my time.
You mentioned my music. I’m a musician at heart. I play in a couple of bands, so I’ve got a couple of gigs here and there, and rehearse here and there.
I go out surfing. I try to get in the water every now and then. But I’m mainly focused at home, taking care of my family, and the Gridiron Greats Organization with Mike Ditka, gridirongreats.org. Then I’ve got another foundation at justcoolme.org. Both of those take my time as well. Both of them are huge passions of mine to help my retired NFL player community as well as just athletics in general to understand the things that are available to them in the natural organic world, helping them get away from the pharmaceuticals.
This is not just about cannabis, this spans into other levels of things that are being kept from us. The therapeutic attributes, which I don’t understand, the hyperbaric and oxygen treatments that aren’t being allowed for certain injuries, like brain injuries, which is highly ridiculous. Dealing with things like natural elements and Cryotherapies. Really trying to put those words out there, and get athletics to make better choices.
What instrument do you play, and what kind of music is it? I’m sure the people out there are curious.
I play guitar and drums. I play acoustic guitar and sing in my country band. We we’ve toured with all kinds of folks. We’ve toured with Hank III and played with David Allan Coe. We’ve played with everybody under the sun from Eric Church, Lynyrd Skynyrd and everybody else that we’ve met. We toured and played shows over the last five years. It’s been a lot of fun. I don’t have the energy to do that as much anymore.
I’ve also got a doom metal band where I play drums and sing. We play shows here and there in California. I keep at it. I’m a musician at heart and always have been, so it is something I just have to do.