Cannabis and professional sports

Cannabis and Professional Sports

Cannabis was legalized in Canada in Oct 2018 for recreational use in Canada, so that means everyone who is the age of majority is able to consume cannabis right? Not exactly. Athletes subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) must be aware that cannabis continues to be a prohibited substance and a positive test can still result in a sanction according to Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). International sports federations adhere to the World Anti Doping Agency for what drugs are and are not permitted. What does this mean for professional athletes in North America? And are the attitudes surrounding cannabis in sports changing? Let’s dive into the topic of cannabis and professional sports.  

What is the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA)?

Established in 1999, WADA is at the forefront of scientific research, education, anti-doping capacities, and expertise when it comes to drugs in sport. Interestingly, their headquarters are in Montreal, Quebec. They’ve developed an extensive manual, called the World Anti-Doping Code.

In Canada, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) is in charge of ensuring that The Code is adhered to. However, most North American professional sports leagues do not explicitly follow The Code. Instead, they often stand by a, “we can police ourselves” mentality.

This makes it difficult to know exactly how cannabis is perceived by each sporting body and what the possible repercussions are for using cannabis. For example; despite cannabis being a banned substance the Canadian Football League (CFL) has never tested for cannabis. The CFL commissioner Randy Ambroise made a statement about cannabis around the time of legalization in Canada; Our drug-testing policy for players has never included testing for marijuana or other recreational drugs. It focuses on performance-enhancing drugs. That will continue to be the case.”

Why is Cannabis Prohibited?

From the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport website:

All prohibited substances are added to the Prohibited List because they meet two of the three following criteria:

  • Use of the substance has the potential to enhance performance;
  • Use of the substance can cause harm to the health of the athlete; and
  • Use of the substance violates the spirit of sport.

While the CCES does not view cannabis as particularly performance-enhancing, they say they have anecdotal accounts of athletes using it therapeutically with the intent to improve performance or recovery by managing pain, stress, or anxiety.

They also believe that “while cannabis has therapeutic uses, habitual use or abuse presents the potential for harm, especially for younger athletes. Impairment during competition presents a liability to the safety of the athlete and their competitors.”

Though it’s interesting to note that those who are using cannabis for medicinal purposes are able to apply for medical exemption with the CCES. 

What about CBD? Is CBD a banned substance in Professional Sports?

As we know, CBD is a non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis. So, is CBD be treated the same way as THC in terms of professional sports?

Miss Envy CBD tincture

As of 2018, WADA no longer lists CBD as a prohibited substance. 

This is one of the many reasons that individuals may choose to use CBD isolate over other CBD products. Because CBD isolates will never contain any traces of THC that could potentially affect how they’re tested for cannabis. 

Read about the differences between Full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate or about What CBD crystals (isolate) are and how to use them if you want more information.

Should Cannabis be Banned in Professional Sports?

Cannabis doesn’t appear to boost athletic performance- at least not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t increase energy production. It doesn’t make you stronger or more explosive. And it certainly doesn’t bring about physical changes that make us more endurant. 

By definition, doping is the act of taking a banned substance that directly increases athletic performance. An excellent example of that is anabolic steroids, which are well-documented to increase; muscle mass; levels of some hormones; one’s ability to do more work and recover faster; and strength, power, speed, and endurance.

Instead, cannabis is typically used for post-workout recovery. This doesn’t make cannabis any different from the other post-workout or post-game remedies used for pain, inflammation, or other sports-related injuries. But cannabis in many cases may be more effective with less problematic side effects.

Read more about cannabis and post-workout recovery.

How are things changing in relation to Cannabis and Sports?

Major League Baseball (MLB)

In December 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced that they’re removing cannabis from the list of banned substances and will begin to treat its consumption in the way they do alcohol. 

major league baseball and cannabis

What does this look like for baseball players?

“Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides for mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving Natural Cannabinoids,” MLB said in a press release.

This means, players will only face discipline for violations related to unsanctioned conduct while under the influence, rather than simply for testing positive for THC. Previously, a positive test resulted in mandatory treatment, and failure to comply was punishable by a fine of up to $35,000.

It sounds as though other organizations may soon follow suit.

National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL)

Both of these organizations are having conversations about cannabis that indicate they are looking toward changing their policies but want to do so in a thoughtful and appropriate way. 

As part of an effort to study “a variety of pain-management issues and strategies for players,” the National Football League and the NFL Player’s Association have agreed to form two new joint medical committees, with a particular focus on marijuana as a pain management tool. This move could represent a potential shift in the NFL’s long-held taboo around cannabis, reports Mark Maske of The Washington Post.

And while Silver (NBA Commissioner) did acknowledge feelings over the NBA still testing for marijuana was seen as “uncool,” he wanted more research available before making any conclusive decision. Like the NFL, the NBA is studying how the plant could be used for pain management.

Toronto Raptors: We the North

So, overall sports organizations appear to be leaning toward changing their policies surrounding cannabis is. Even now, those who are drug tested and test positive for THC are not likely to be disciplined in most professional sports leagues but be treated for potential substance abuse related issues as well as educated on the substance. 

Athletes and Cannabis 

We know that despite what The Code currently states regarding the use of cannabis and professional sports many athletes are continuing to use cannabis. They are not only seeing the benefits of cannabis and CBD in their workout recovery but in the rest of their lives.

Many professional athletes have become advocates for cannabis in professional sports.

These athletes are blazing the trail for cannabis in sports:

Eugene Monroe (NFL)
Liz Carmouche (UFC)
Ricky Williams (NFL)
The Diaz Brothers (UFC)
Nate Jackson (NFL)
Amy Van Dyken (Olympic swimmer)
Rilet Cote (NHL)
Eben Brittan (NFL)
Kyle Turley (NFL)
Greta Gaines (Extreme Snowboarding)
Frank Shamrock (UFC)
Cliff Robinson (NBA)
Julie Anthony (Olympic Tennis)
Ross Rebagliati (Olympic Snowboarder)
Avery Collins (Ultramarathoner)

Read more about these amazing athletes and how they’re choosing to advocate for cannabis here.

Tell Us Your Thoughts

Are you an athlete? Do you use cannabis specifically to enhance your performance in your sport? Do you use cannabis as a recovery tool? What do you think about cannabis being banned in professional sports?

Even if you aren’t a competitive athlete we want to hear from you. Regardless of your fitness level cannabis can be an aid in body movement and fitness. Cannabis can help individuals manage chronic pain that allows them to go for a walk or engage in other physical activities. Cannabis can also help the body recover regardless of the intensity of physical activity. Do you think there is a significant difference between cannabis use in personal fitness and professional sports? Do you think cannabis should be a canned substance in professional sports?


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