Percy Harvin and the tragedy of marijuana criminalization

A parody created after Percy Harvin tested positive for marijuana.
A parody created after Percy Harvin tested positive for marijuana.

Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin is alert and resting comfortably in a hospital after collapsing during practice today due to a crippling migraine headache.

While we are all thankful that Harvin is OK, the incident could have been prevented with the use of a freely available plant that he had previously relied on to control his long-standing health problem.

Unfortunately, that plant is marijuana, and the NFL forbids its use by players.

Harvin has suffered from chronic migraines since the age of 10, but his use of marijuana to control his health problem became public knowledge when he flunked a drug test during a February 2009 NFL combine. At the time, the revelation was viewed as a potential poison pill to his draft prospects. Several teams reportedly removed him from roster consideration.

The Vikings selected him as the 22nd pick, likely after a long talk about putting down his spliff.  It turned out to be a smart move, because Harvin had a great season and made the Pro Bowl.

Yet toward the tail end of his breakout performance, Harvin began to suffer a string of illnesses that caused him to miss practice. The issue came to a head when he had to sit out an important game against the Bengels last season in Week 15.

The culprit: his inexplicable migraine headaches. Only this time he couldn't fall back on the medicine that always worked for him. Now, he has to be rushed to the hospital.

Marijuana is often prescribed as a medicine to treat persistent migraine headaches, and there is a growing body of science about its effectiveness.

While it makes sense for the NFL to ban performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids, which could provide certain players an unfair advantage, marijuana has not been shown to improve athletic performance. Quite the contrary, most intelligent observers believe it actually diminishes performance, because of the obvious deleterious effects on lung capacity.

That said, it's doubtful the NFL will come to its senses, so this is likely a liability that Harvin and the Vikings will have to find a way to live with.

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