Pro Athletes and Cannabis

During heated competition, or even just while training for the next bout, professional athletes are constantly pushing the limits of their bodies. This intense stress puts serious wear and tear on an athlete’s body. When athletes face serious or persistent injury, team doctors and coaches often direct athletes to seek relief from powerful and addictive opiate painkillers. The boom of research into cannabis for medical use has generated a discussion on whether or not medical marijuana should be accepted as an alternative treatment option for professional athletes.

Physical contact sports incur a serious risk of injury; different sports usually have different common injuries, but some are constant across all sports. Overuse injuries like muscle sprains, strains, and pulls affect casual and professional athletes equally and can happen while playing any sport. Sports with frequent physical contact like football are more prone to severe injury, and football, in particular, has been criticized for the danger that it puts players in when it comes to head trauma injury. The intense pressure put on professional athletes often makes them feel that they have to continue playing despite the pain, increasing the use of painkillers.

As players continue their careers, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll begin to feel aches and pains even without sustaining direct injuries. When these aches become too much to handle, players often get prescribed powerful pain-relieving medication with a high potential for addiction and negative side effects. Opioids are a class of drugs most often prescribed for this purpose, and have caused addiction in some of the most famous athletes in America; golf star Tiger Woods and NFL quarterback Brett Farve have both spoken frankly about their struggle with opioids. 

The benefits of medical marijuana are usually attributed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Research into these two botanical compounds has shown promising results for the ailments that athletes often suffer from. Medical marijuana is effective as a pain reliever and preliminary research has shown that CBD, in particular, can protect against neural damage following brain injury. Cannabinoids present in medical cannabis can affect the body’s own endocannabinoid system to help block pain signals and reduce inflammation that can cause pain. The antioxidants present in cannabis also contribute to its effects on reducing time needed to heal from injuries. See how we source our cannabinoids on our Extraction page. 

The relationship that players have with cannabis is a complicated one. Current and former members of both the NFL and NBA have claimed that a majority of their peers consume cannabis recreationally or medicinally. For years, players have been subject to drug testing, and positive results have led to penalties sometimes more punitive than the law of the state they play in.

Cannabis and Professional Leagues

The regulatory status of cannabis use by sports players varies greatly across leagues. Historically, the league with the most restrictive rules is the National Football League (NFL). The NFL previously upheld a zero-tolerance policy, but this has changed rapidly in just a few months. The agreement between the NFL and the players union was up for renewal, and the agreement ratified in March of 2020 made significant changes to the league’s regulations on cannabis use. The new agreement removes suspension from the list of possible penalties for a positive test for marijuana and raises the limit of THC allowed to trigger a positive result. The drug testing window has been narrowed down to only the first two weeks of training camp, as well. The penalties that remain for cannabis use include salary fines and mandated treatment programs, with repeated positive tests leading to suspension. This drastic change in NFL policy has rocketed them to the forefront of major sports leagues in regard to drug policy. Only two other major leagues have more progressive policies: the NHL has reduced penalties for cannabis use to little more than a recommendation for substance abuse counseling, and MLB policies are similar, with cannabis now considered similarly to alcohol.

Players themselves have been some of the most outspoken advocates for cannabis as a tool for professional athletes. Former NFL player Riley Cote used cannabis to find relief from pain and anxiety caused by injuries he received while playing and has since helped found Athletes for Care, an organization of athletes advocating for health research and education. Former NBA player Cliff Robinson faced multiple suspensions due to NBA drug policy during his playing years but since retirement, he has founded a company seeking to market cannabis to sports enthusiasts and is a member of a Connecticut cannabis advocacy coalition.

Cannabis use by professional athletes has had a turbulent history, and it looks as though that history is beginning to settle. As legislatures around the world begin to reconsider the status of cannabis, professional sports leagues are beginning to reconsider it as well, so the future appears bright. Want to take advantage of this bright future? Visit our Investment page to see how you can be a part.


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