The NFL says it plans to fund research into alternative pain medications to opioids, including potential studies on whether cannabis can effectively treat pain without having a negative effect on elite athletes.

The league is offering US$1 million in grants for as many as five research proposals, Jeff Miller, executive vice president overseeing player health and safety, said on a media call Tuesday.

“This isn’t an NFL or a sports issue; this is a societal issue,” the NFL’s chief medical officer, Allen Sills, said on the call, saying there need to be more alternatives to opioids to manage pain. The NFL is particularly interested in research proposals covering cannabis and CBD, as players have shown an interest in using them to manage pain.

“Unfortunately the level of interest exceeds the level of evidence about medical cannabis for pain,” said Kevin Hill, co-chairman of the joint committee on pain management between the players’ association and the league. Hill, who is also director of addiction psychiatry at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said there are flaws in existing studies, and the NFL wants to know these treatments are both safe and effective enough to be considered as potential treatments for elite athletes.

The National Football League has been criticized in the past after a number of former players said they became addicted to painkillers following injuries sustained during their careers.