Playing football

CBD and Sports: Are Major Leagues Embracing Cannabis?

It seemed like only a matter of time before the worlds of CBD and sports would come together. One of the significant benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) is its therapeutic properties for relieving pain and inflammation, which athletes in all sports can use at one point or another.

Incorporating CBD into your athletic regime is easier than ever now that products like CBD protein powder and topical pain relievers are available. Brands like Myaderm offer CBD topicals designed specifically for muscle and joint recovery, like their Advanced CBD Sports Cream that contains up to 2,400 mg of CBD and no traces of THC. But of course, the issues surrounding CBD and sports are not based on availability, but legality.

In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances, in addition to the Farm Bill legalizing hemp-derived CBD with less than 0.3% THC in all 50 states. However, the major sports leagues have been hesitant to authorize CBD’s use for pain over opiates, even though they come with a laundry list of side effects and are extremely addictive. Opioids and related nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are still the most common approaches for athletes dealing with pain, whether recovering from a workout or injury.

The use of CBD for sports has received a groundswell of support, but some major American sports leagues still prohibit their athletes from using the non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Here, we look at how the major leagues in North America are responding to the ongoing controversy of CBD and sports.

National Football League (NFL)

The NFL is probably the league that would most benefit from the use of CBD, as it’s arguably 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.

In 2019, the NFL announced that it would conduct studies on cannabis to determine what cannabinoids, if any, could be used for pain management. The NFL created a Pain Management Committee to meet with manufacturers of cannabidiol to gather scientific research on the chemical properties and delivery systems of CBD.

Currently, players can’t have more than 150 ng/ml (the “ng” stands for nanogram) of cannabis in their system. But the most exciting news for NFL athletes is that there will be no suspensions handed out for players who test positive for CBD.

National Basketball Association (NBA)

The NBA has always been thought of as the league with the most lax views on cannabis. It has been estimated 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, in addition to starting companies with products developed using THC and CBD. Harrington also sat down with former NBA commissioner David Stern, who commented in support of cannabis being removed from the list of banned substances.

Currently, the rule in the NBA is that players cannot go above 15 ng/ml of cannabis. The first time a player is found guilty, they must enter a substance-abuse program specifically for marijuana. The second offense lands the player 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)

Surprisingly, Major League Baseball 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 a player is caught with cannabis in their system, they must attend a drug rehabilitation 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.

If you are in the major leagues, the limit of cannabis in a players’ system is 50 ng/ml. If this limit is exceeded, the player will receive a fine of no more than $35,000. They might also have to enter a rehabilitation program.

National Hockey League (NHL)

The NHL is right up there with the NFL in terms of being a physical sport. The players push themselves to the limits of enduring brutal conditions and extreme workouts to fine-tune their bodies for the physically demanding games.

The NHL might be the most lenient of all the major sports leagues when it comes to CBD and sports. Cannabis is not on their banned list of substances. If a player tests positive for cannabis use, they aren’t automatically fined or suspended. Action is only taken when extreme levels of cannabis are present in a player’s system, and there is further investigation into possible substance abuse.

CBD and Other Sports

Legislations for CBD and sports took a leap forward when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) removed CBD from their banned substances list. The USADA doesn’t have a threshold for the acceptable level of cannabinoids in an athlete’s system, while WADA sets its limits at 150 ng/ml of cannabis. This is actually a considerable improvement as the WADA threshold used to be only 15 ng/ml.

As laws for CBD use in sports continue to ease, companies are stepping up to the plate to take advantage of the surge of athletes looking for natural pain relief. ThereBody, starting their journey with the popular Theragun Percussive Therapy, launched their new line of USDA Certified Organic CBD Products. Formulated with athletes in mind, this lineup of CBD topicals offers balms, creams, oils, and tinctures for everything from muscle recovery to sleep.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

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.

Professional Golfers Association (PGA)

The PGA Tour believes that CBD is the same as a supplement, so it is permitted. But players must be careful that their THC levels are below a certain amount since they are still tested. However, players such as Bubba Watson have sponsorships with CBD companies, and the senior golf circuit has plenty of CBD fans that report it helps expedite their recovery.

National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR)

NASCAR is tricky, as drivers are behind the wheel. To date, NASCAR continues to prohibit CBD use and company sponsorships, even while allowing alcohol sponsorships. Drivers, such as Matt Tifft and Ricky Lewis, are becoming more vocal about their experience with CBD’s therapeutic benefits. Some speculate that CBD will be the next big sponsor for the sport.

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. Gronkowski, as mentioned earlier, is a big name who has thrown his weight behind the cause.

Athletes for Care, a non-profit organization founded in 2016, is advocating for CBD because 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 a lot of physical pain and mental anguish. 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.

While cannabis use and professional sport have had a rocky relationship, the landscape is changing. Get the inside scoop from a retired NBA veteran.

Planning on taking CBD or cannabis products with you on your next trip? Find out about all the legalities of travelling with cannabis here.

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