Marijuana & Sports: Dispelling Myths & Current Rule Changes
The sports world has slowly changed its perception of the use of marijuana, also known as cannabis but better known as “weed.” Professional sports leagues have recently changed gears, and we (society) have witnessed a shift toward easing restrictions and penalties on cannabis consumption for professional athletes.
Weed in the 1970s
A quick history lesson, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the current federal drug policy that regulates the manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of certain substances. Under section 811 of the CSA, marijuana has been defined as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I substances are defined as those with a high potential for abuse. Plus,are not currently accepted as a form of medical treatment and cannot be safely used under the supervision of a medical care provider.
Fast forward fifty years, medical marijuana has been prescribed for patients that suffer from or have cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia/wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures (including epilepsy), severe or persistent muscle spasms (including multiple sclerosis). It’s an anti-inflammatory and has an anti-pain impact, which could allow an athlete to recover faster from injury, which could lead to longer careers and, more importantly, even healthier careers.
Stigmas Surrounding Marijuana
Marijuana has been looked at as a performance enhancer. Some scientists have said that data supporting marijuana’s performance-enhancing effects are limited. Furthermore, that the evidence seems to point to the drug reducing athletic ability. Since 2011 there have been several published review papers in which researchers evaluated the available analysis on marijuana as a performance enhancer. One co-authored by a medical director of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) concluded: no convincing evidence exists that cannabis can make athletes better at their sports.
Standout Marijuana Sport Suspensions
Sports leagues have been known to throw the book at athletes who have tested positive for marijuana. Here are a few suspensions that have been handed out in the past:
- Running back Ricky Williams is suspended from the National Football League for four games after testing positive for marijuana. Later, he was suspended in 2006 for a full year, after testing positive once again
- Top Houston Astros prospect Jon Singleton, was demoted and suspended for 100 games after testing positive for marijuana three times.
- UFC fighters Cynthia Calvillo ( six months & $6,150), Niko Price (6 months & $8,500), and Nick Diaz (five years & $165K), all heavily fined.
Currently, of the 136 professional U.S. sports teams playing professionally, 73 are located in a state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana. 57 are in states where medicinal use is legal.
In Canada, nine Canadian professional teams compete with U.S. teams in predominantly American leagues (on October 17, 2018, recreational use of marijuana officially became legal across Canada).
Sports and Marijuana Take a Step in the Right Direction
We are encouraged by the strides professional sports organizations are making in their treatment of cannabis consumption across the U.S. Let’s take a look at how the Big Three sports leagues and the UFC are changing their ways concerning marijuana and their drug testing policies.
The NBA had agreed to extend not randomly test players for marijuana this season. The act was a continuation of the policy that was put in place when the league decided to “restart in the bubble” due to COVID-19. The new Collective Bargain Agreement reduced the testing window from four months to just two weeks of training camp. This way, players could use marijuana in the offseason without fear of punishment.
In the past, if an NBA player tested positive for cannabis for his first violation, the player must attend an anti-drug treatment program. Next, players would receive a fine for a second violation. Lastly, a five-game suspension without pay for a third violation.
Under the current agreement, players can no longer be suspended for testing positive for THC.
MLB removed testing for cannabis (THC and cannabinoids) from its drugs of abuse program in 2019. “Marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program,” according to the league and MLB players union. Meaning that players would be referred to mandatory evaluation and voluntary treatment. The league also announced that it would start testing for opioids. Its purpose is to help curb opioid addiction amongst its players.
The NHL currently does tests for cannabis. But, it doesn’t punish for positive tests. Instead, they encourage a treatment-based program when necessary. “Weed” is presently not on the NHL’s list of banned substances because it isn’t considered performance-enhancing. It is one of many drugs players tested for under the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Currently, the program is run jointly by the NHL and its union.
The UFC follows USADA’s (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) rules but not WADA’s. They permit the use of cannabis except when an athlete intends to use it for performance enhancement.
On January 14, 2021, the UFC and USADA announced they would no longer punish athletes who test positive for THC. Before a fight, athletes would be subject to testing, Yet fighters who test positive will not be penalized under the new change.
Significant steps have been taken regarding punishment for cannabis consumption by sports teams, athletes, and leagues. Additional advocacy to ease restrictions and promote the benefits of cannabis for professional athletes can only help them succeed. Conceivably, it’ll help them have longer careers and decrease opioid addictions.
Levanstian “Lee” Brown for Thread Head Media
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