For many years, the issue of cannabis in sport has long been a contentious one. While it’s sporting prohibition has long been accepted, the emergence of CBD as a potential medical treatment has lead to a huge change in the public perception of cannabis in our society.
Following the groundbreaking decision from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the beginning of 2018 to remove CBD from its list of banned substances, there has been a growing demand for all of the major US sports to re-examine their own rules regarding cannabis, and by proxy, CBD.
With their decision, The WADA became the first sporting organization to not only remove CBD from their list of banned substances but to also recognize CBD as a separate entity to that of cannabis.
While all sporting organizations have rules and regulations regarding the use of cannabis, CBD regulations have yet to be largely established. While this can be directly attributed to the rapid evolution of CBD into the mainstream, it has left many sportsmen and sportswomen unable to treat themselves with CBD.
WADA was created by the International Olympic Committee back in 1999 with the specific intention of promoting, coordinating and monitoring the fight against drugs in sports.
WADA’s decision to remove CBD from its list of banned substances was hugely welcomed as it now gives thousands of athletes across the globe the opportunity to use CBD as a medical treatment without fear of persecution or prosecution.
Despite their short history, WADA holds a tremendous influence on sport globally as they attempt to unify global anti-doping policies. WADA’s reach is broad with the IOC (International Olympic Committee), the IPC (the International Paralympic Committee) and all other International Athletics Federations as well as over 200 National Anti-Doping Organizations, including USADA (United States Anti-doping Agency) adopting their doping code.
While USADA (the US Anti-doping Agency) has long advocated for the adoption of the WADA policy by collegiate and professional sports leagues (like the NFL and NBA) in the US, such a change has yet to be adopted by any of the major sporting organizations
Still, it is hoped that the WADA decision to remove CBD from its list of banned substances will see other sporting organizations adopt a similar approach in the coming months and years.
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NFL (National Football League)
It is a well-known fact that playing football at the highest level in the NFL is a physically demanding task, with the average career lasting less than just five years.
Sadly, the demands of the sport are such, that many players will suffer chronic pain both throughout and after their career has finished.
As a result, more and more players, both retired and active, have turned to CBD in a bId to find a healthier alternative to the opiates and anti-inflammatory treatments that have been largely abused in the sport over the last 30 years.
Despite a growing movement from both players and fans alike, the NFL still continues to ignore
repeated calls for new regulations on the usage of CBD. Indeed, the league seem to have done very little to respond or indeed investigate the potential benefits of CBD and cannabis, as it still remains a banned substance.
Currently, players are tested once during the year - in pre-season from mid-April to the start of August. A positive test for cannabis will result in the player being placed in the league’s prevention programme (similar to that of the NBA) while further positive tests will result in fines and suspensions from matches for up to 10 games.
While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has spoken about his opposition to the use of recreational cannabis, he had indicated his willingness to listen to the league’s medical advisors on the potential benefits of medical cannabis and CBD.
However, despite a number of players supporting the use of CBD within the NFL, change has not yet presented itself in the shape of any kind of CBD regulations and with Goodell again speaking out against Cannabis in April of 2018, any change does not appear to be on the horizon.
One possibility of positive change does come in the shape of the “NFL collective bargaining agreement” which is up for renewal in 2020.
This agreement between the players’ union and management council, expires in 2020 and it is expected that medical cannabis and CBD will be two of the central issues up for review.
Hopefully, at that stage, with an increasingly powerful group of current former players speaking out in support of CBD, we can expect to see some form of positive CBD legislation in the NFL soon.
NBA (National Basketball Association)
Under current regulations, players are randomly tested four times throughout the year and must not exceed the THC threshold of 15ng/ml.
Should a player test positive for cannabis, they are forced to undergo treatment as well as being subject to further random testing. A second positive test results in a $25,000 fine while any further violations result in a five-game suspension (five games for a third offence, ten games for a fourth, etc.).
Given that those regulations include CBD, it is increasingly clear that the NBA may also need to closely examine its current regulations surrounding cannabis and CBD usage.
Current NBA commissioner Adam Silver has indicated that the NBA could be open to the legalization of medical cannabis and CBD “should the science support its benefit” but despite plenty of recent developments that would indicate the “science supporting its benefit” changes have yet to be made in the league’s policy on cannabis or CBD.
While there has been less of a clamor for a rule change in the NBA, a number of former players are now beginning to speak out in their support for CBD.
However, with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement not up for renewal until 2024, any changes to the league’s policy on cannabis remain potentially distant with the NBPA more likely to force through any changes than the NBA itself.
MLB (Major League Basketball)
While CBD is not classified under the MLB’S drug regulations, the league does adopt a softer approach when it comes to cannabis usage.
Following the first Joint Drug Agreement in 2002 between the MLB and MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association), the league have been much more lenient towards cannabis usage with their attention focused firmly on the misuse of performance-enhancing drugs.
Under current regulations known as the “Drug Prevention and Treatment Program”, MLB players do not participate in random tests for cannabis. Instead, players are tested upon a reasonable cause of use.
Should they exceed the THC threshold of 50ng/ml, they are unlikely to face a suspension but will instead face either rehabilitation or a fine of up to $35,000.
Despite the softer stance on cannabis, no specific regulations on CBD currently exist within the MLB and with only a few current and previous players showing support, there appears to be little motivation from within this sport to adopt any changes to their current policy at this particular moment.
Beyond the MLB, there is a major discrepancy between the punishments imposed on major league players and those playing in the minor leagues (MILB).
The MLBPA has opposed tough punishments for cannabis use, but unfortunately, minor league players are not protected by this union. As a result, the MLB is solely responsible for dictating the drug policies for minor league players.
Under their current regulations, any player producing a positive test for cannabis is admitted into a Drug Rehabilitation Program, a second positive test results in a whopping 50-game suspension, a third positive test results in an even bigger suspension of 100-games while a fourth positive test results in a permanent ban from organized baseball!
Such regulations could be deemed archaic and outdated. Can you imagine losing your career because you used CBD or smoked a few joints?
Unfortunately, sport in the US still seems to hold an outdated approach to both cannabis and CBD usage, with none of the major sporting organizations even holding any sort of provisions for the use of CBD as a medical treatment.
With more and more sportsmen and sportswomen joining forces to share their incredible experiences of CBD, there is hope that there will come a time where the leading sports agencies will finally recognize the potential health benefits of cannabis and CBD and finally reevaluate their drug policies.