David Downs, San Francisco Chronicle

This week the country’s leading medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has teamed up with the wikipedia of weed Leafly to run advertisements touting the plant in USA Today’s NFL Special Edition.

The USA Today advertisement depicts a football player with the caption “100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. … 9 in 10 retired players suffer from pain on a daily basis. … Medical marijuana works on pain even when opiates don’t.”

The ads will run for 30 days, followed by digital and online versions focusing on markets for the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Eagles.

Even though the plant is legal for adults 21 and over in two states and legal medicinally in 23, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement still prohibits the “illegal use” of marijuana. The NFL currently hands out harsher penalties for hitting a bong than hitting your wife.

An estimated 50 to 60 percent of NFL players use cannabis regularly. Cannabis not only treats intractable pain and inflammation also protects the brain against long-term damage from trauma and concussion.

New York-based KannaLife Sciences will eventually sell FDA-approved cannabis-derived medicines to treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that affects people — particularly NFL athletes — who have endured repeated head trauma. However, KannaLife Sciences isn’t expected to begin clinical trials until 2015. The federal government has a patent on pot for brain trauma, while maintaining it is a dangerous drug with no medical use.

More than 4,000 former NFL players are suing the league for hiding the brain damage inherent in the sport. A federal judge rejected the initial settlement of $765 million as insufficient, and a new agreement would lift caps on monetary awards.