Is NFL’s Marijuana Ban Up In Smoke?

Many NFL players believe CBD is a safer alternative to opioid drugs usually prescribed for pain

A man holds the ball for American football on the grass. Picture is black and white, close up.

The 2019-20 National Football League (NFL) season begins today (September 5). And more players than ever are going public about their use of marijuana to manage pain.

In May, the league and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) announced a joint research project to study cannabis, cannabinoids and CBD to manage pain. However, CBD and cannabis-derived products are not the only areas of focus. 

“We are working to research all forms of pain management,” says Carl Francis, a spokesperson for the NFLPA.

Cannabis remains on the NFL’s list of banned substances even though several U.S. states have legalized marijuana. CBD products derived from cannabis are also legal in the United States. CBD, unlike the cannabinoid found in cannabis known as THC, does not cause intoxicating effects. 

Many NFL players believe CBD is a safer alternative to opioid drugs usually prescribed for pain. But the method used by the league to test for cannabis means that even a 100 per cent CBD product can cause a failed test. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency lists cannabis as a banned substance. But the organization allowed an exemption for CBD in 2017. A number of sports organizations have followed suit.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship recently announced a partnership with Canadian company Aurora Cannabis to research CBD. Aurora’s research team will travel to the UFC’s Performance Institute in Las Vegas to work with fighters.  

Major League Wrestling is also advocating for CBD use.  The league recognizes that CBD products “aids with regards to anti-inflammatory related issues,” says a spokesperson. 

But like the NFL, most major North American sports organizations don’t distinguish between CBD and cannabis.  

The National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), for example, both list cannabis as a prohibited “drug of abuse.” Technically, a failed test for cannabis could land an NHL player in the league’s substance abuse program.  The National Basketball Association hands out suspensions and fines to players who test positive for cannabis. 

Dillon Kivo, director of publications for CBD company cbdMD, says attitudes about CBD in the NFL are slowly changing.

Former NFLer Steve Smith is one of several athletes that has partnered with cbdMD to educate the public “on the power of CBD.” Other former players are investing in the cannabis sector. 

“We feel confident that the major North American sports leagues will come around soon,” says Kivo.

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