Playing football

The Legalities of CBD and Professional Sports

It seemed like only a matter of time before the worlds of CBD and sports would come together. One of the major benefits of cannabis and CBD is its ability to possibly relieve pain, which is something that athletes in all sports can use at one point or another. But of course, there are issues surrounding CBD and sports when it comes to the legal side of it. As it is fully legal in the United States in a handful of states, the major sports leagues have been hesitant to say that athletes could take CBD for pain over opiates, which are more dangerous as they are extremely addictive. That being said, there has been a ground swell of support for CBD to be legal for players to use. Here, we take a look at how the major leagues in North America look when it comes to CBD and sports.

National Football League (NFL)

The NFL is probably the league that would be most in need of the legalization of CBD and cannabis. Simply put, it is the most physical of the major sports leagues.  Experts have likened football to a car crash happening on every single play. Therefore, it seems like CBD is tailor-made for the NFL. Now, you have the likes of former New England tight end Rob Gronkowski getting involved in the CBD business. He even claimed that he would consider coming out of retirement if the NFL relaxed their laws on cannabis.

Currently, players can’t have more than 150 ng/ml (the “ng” stands for nanogram) of cannabis in their system. The most exciting news for NFL players is that there will be suspensions handed out for players who test positive for CBD.

But with more and more players (current and retired) pushing for the allowance of at least, CBD, this issue will definitely be raised in the next negotiations for the 2021 deal. And the NFL has already agreed to studying cannabis as a form of alternative medicine.

National Basketball Association (NBA)

The NBA has always been thought of as the league that has the laxest views on cannabis. It has been estimated by some that as much as 80% of the league used cannabis in one way or another. Former player Al Harrington has been advocating for the allowance of cannabis in the NBA, and he has started companies that produce both THC and CBD products. Harrington also sat down with former NBA commission David Stern, who feels that cannabis should be removed from the list of banned substances now.

Currently, the rule in the NBA is that players cannot go above 15 ng/ml, and the first time they are found guilty, they must enter a substance-abuse program specifically for marijuana. Then, the second time lands players back in the program, along with a $25,000 fine. The third violation means another trip to the program and a five-game suspension. Any more violations and players get five more games tacked on to the last suspension (so if they were suspended for five games, the next suspension is 10 games).

But with commissioner Adam Silver in the hot seat, this is the league you would bet on for relaxing their cannabis laws. It will be on the table for the next negotiations, as the league and players’ agreement is up in 2024 (with a possible opt-out in 2023).

Major League Baseball (MLB)

Major League Baseball, perhaps surprisingly, has been relatively tolerant of cannabis, although that does not mean that they condone their players using it. They are more involved in the testing of players for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). However, if you are in the minor leagues, that is a different story.

The first time you are caught with cannabis in your system, you’ll have to go to a drug rehab program. The second time, players get a 50-game suspension, a third nets a 100-game suspension and a fourth (a fourth strike, if you will) means you are out of organized baseball.

However, if you are in the major leagues, the limit is 50 ng/ml and players might receive a fine of no more than $35,000. They might also have to enter a program. But Major League Baseball seems to be more concerned with PEDs.

National Hockey League (NHL)

The NHL is right up there with the NFL in terms of being a physical sport. The game is getting faster, players are getting bigger and stronger, as well as faster, and you have a sport that needs a little CBD treatment.

The NHL might be the most lenient of all the major sports leagues when it comes to CBD and sports. They don’t have cannabis on their banned list, although players are still tested for cannabinoids. If a player happens to be found guilty of having cannabis in their system, they’re not punished. It is really only when there are extremely high levels that a player is examined further.

There is now more efforts, led by former players, to allow cannabis for pain and other issues. NHL players have had as much tragedy, especially in regards to mental health, as any sport in recent memory. The NHL collective bargaining agreement is up after the 2021-22 season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was on the docket for the next negotiations. If the NHL were to become an advocate for CBD and sports to come together, that would be a huge boost.

CBD and Other Sports

In 2018, there was a big step in the advancement for the legality of CBD and sports. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) removed CBD from their list of banned substances. However, that was only CBD; THC is still illegal. The USADA doesn’t have a threshold to how much cannabinoid can be found in an athlete’s system, while it is 150 ng/ml for the WADA. That is actually a huge improvement as the WADA threshold used to be only 15 ng/ml.

The UFC has allowed their fighters to use CBD. Nate Diaz famously used a vape pen with CBD following his second fight with Conor McGregor and escaped any punishment, even though CBD was still on the banned list for the USADA at the time. Diaz stated that CBD helped him recover after fights, and the UFC obliged. The PGA Tour believes that CBD is the same as a supplement, so it is permitted. But players must be careful that their THC is below a certain amount since they are still being tested. However, players such as Bubba Watson have sponsorships with CBD companies, and the senior golf circuit are also fans of CBD as it allows them to recover faster.

NASCAR is tricky, as drivers are behind the wheel. It doesn’t seem like there are steadfast laws for CBD in NASCAR, but they have started to allow companies to sponsor drivers and cars, so that is something to keep an eye on.

Are There Organizations Trying To Fight For CBD and Sports?

There are definitely organizations out there advocating for the allowance of CBD in all of the major sports. The aforementioned Gronkowski is a big name who has thrown his weight behind the cause.

There is also a group called Athletes for Care, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2016, and they are advocating for CBD on the grounds that it is a health and wellness option for not just athletes, but everyone. They have a few big names on their roster, such as boxing’s Mike Tyson (who owns Tyson Ranch, which produces cannabis) and Shannon Briggs.

The organization was co-founded by Riley Cote, a former NHL enforcer, a job that caused him not only a lot of physical pain, but mental anguish as well. The aforementioned Harrington is also aligned with Athletes for Care, as well as Canadian snowboarding gold medalist Ross Rebagliati and Super Bowl winner Marvin Washington.

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