For professional sports, anything that is ingested in and out of the field is heavily regulated. Much effort is channeled towards barring athletes from using substances that will enhance their performance in an unfair way.
For a long time, cannabis has been at the top of the list of prohibited substances. With the wave of cannabis legalization sweeping through the US, hopes are high that professional sports will soften their hard stance on cannabis. The biggest argument is that cannabis is not, to begin with, a performance-enhancing substance, in addition to the therapeutic benefits that cannabis can offer to athletes.
Testing positive for prohibited substances does a lot to ruin an athlete’s reputation and career prospects. Athletes found contravening the law on these grounds are likely to be banned from professional sports, penalized, or be sent on a suspension.
Athletes are turning to cannabis for various reasons, and one of the top is pain management. The NFL recently admitted to considering medicinal cannabis as one of the alternative therapies for pain management. Previously, athletes have been put on opioids to manage pain. As you may guess, opioid addiction is the usual consequence, leaving athletes grappling with more problems than they had in the beginning. Considering the huge population of athletes that use opioids, it’s no surprise athletes are in the front line gunning for the decriminalization of cannabis on a global scale.
Professional Sports Organizations and Where They Stand on Cannabis Use
Cannabis has been taboo in professional sports circles for many years. But things seem to have taken a turn for the better towards the close of 2017 when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed cannabidiol (a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis) from their list of banned substances. It appears that since this move, other major sports organizations are warming up to the idea of cannabis. While a number are sitting on the fence, others still remain adamant. Here is a breakdown of where some of the top organizations stand.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is responsible for setting the global anti-doping standard. Late in September 2017, WADA removed CBD from the list of banned substances for 2018. As much as THC (the psychoactive component in weed) still features on the list, CBD is no longer prohibited.
This move by WADA was received by excitement from many quarters, even though athletes are still pushing for the removal of THC from the list. In the past, athletes have turned to CBD products to help in the management of pain, anxiety, and PTSD. The move by WADA is definitely a big win for professional sports.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is known to be the “mother hen” of anti-doping standards in athletics. They have stringent marijuana laws and this has not changed, even after the move by WADA. For the NCAA, CBD is prohibited because it is chemically related to THC, which features prominently on their list of banned substances.
The National Football League still outlaws the use of cannabis by its players. This is unfortunate since football players are among the worst hit when it comes to the opioid abuse crisis. Once the trappings of a high flying career are over, ex-athletes are left grappling with dire consequences of opioid addiction.
A story reported by the Washington Post in May this year seems to offer some glimmer of hope. The NFL and the NFL Players Association are coming together to take part in a study that will investigate the use of marijuana for managing pain.
However, it is not until 2021 that we will know if the NFL has changed their minds about marijuana use by its players.
Major League Baseball is a pacesetter in this matter. As much as marijuana still remains on their list of banned substances, they have very flexible laws to regulate the same. Players in the major leagues are not tested for marijuana use unless there is reasonable cause to do so. This has allowed players the liberty to use their discretion on this matter. Unfortunately, players in minor leagues do not have similar privileges.
The National Hockey League has also made progressive changes in this matter. Even though they have not allowed the use of marijuana, they do not punish players who test positive for the substance. Their approach focuses on offering help to athletes struggling with drug addiction as opposed to punishing.
What do Athletes Stand to Gain?
Athletes have lots to gain should cannabis be removed from the list of prohibited substances. This is not just because of the recreational aspects afforded by cannabis, but the therapeutic effects that may be of more benefit to ailing athletes.
Common health challenges faced by athletes include:
- Pain and inflammation
- Muscle aches
- Mental health issues
Cannabis has proven useful in the treatment of anxiety, mental health issues, extreme fatigue, pain, and inflammation. Recent research is also pointing towards the use of cannabis in the treatment of concussions.
In many states where cannabis has been legalized, athletes have played a vital role in pushing for change. Athletes have also taken part in fundraising efforts for cannabis studies. Results from these studies will hopefully help in convincing professional sports bodies to reconsider lifting the ban on cannabis. Up until that happens, many athletes will be forced to go on with traditional treatments and face the risk of addiction and dependence.
1. NIH (2019): Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
2. Washington Post (2019): NFL and players’ union to study the potential use of marijuana for pain management. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/05/20/nfl-players-union-study-potential-use-marijuana-pain-management/
3. NYT (2019): For N.F.L. Retirees, Opioids Bring More Pain. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/sports/nfl-opioids-.html
4. NCBI (2011): Injury, Pain, and Prescription Opioid Use Among Former National Football League (NFL) Players. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3095672/
5. Washington Post (2017): While marijuana remains banned, WADA reverses course on hemp-derived compound CBD. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/10/05/while-marijuana-remains-banned-wada-reverses-course-on-hemp-derived-compound-cbd/
6. NCAA (2019): 2019-20 NCAA Banned Substances. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/sport-science-institute/topics/2019-20-ncaa-banned-substances