Athletes and Cannabis a Slippery Slope
Whenever athletes and cannabis are mentioned together, the context is rarely positive. Despite the many strides that have been made to legitimize cannabis use for therapeutic and recreational purposes in many states, it continues to be federally classed as a Schedule I drug. As such, it can result in negative legal and career ramifications for athletes through any association. Pros, such as former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle, Eugene Monroe, is a good example of how publicly endorsing cannabis can work out badly.
A recently introduced bill in California, the Fair Pay to Play Act, seeks to allow college athletes to make use of their names, images, and likeness (NIL), to generate income. One of the opposing views to this bill is that college athletes may choose to endorse products like marijuana, which are banned by the National Collegiate and Athletic Association (NCAA). Though its passage has received much support, there are stumbling blocks along the way, with the NCAA leading the challenge against the bill. This regulatory body has proven very resistant to change, with threats to ban California schools from NCAA championships should the bill become law.
Some prominent universities have also expressed opposition to this move for fear of athletes accepting endorsements from companies that may prove to be unsavory. Andy Fee, the athletics director of California State University, Long Beach, suggested casinos and marijuana products are a threat. Coaches may also face challenges in the future when trying to recruit if schools are locked out of competing in championships.
While casinos are certainly a threat due to the gambling connection that can certainly taint ethical sportsmanship, the suggestion that endorsing marijuana products somehow affects players in the same manner is ludicrous. Currently, the NCAA has one of the strictest restrictions on cannabis use amongst athletes with the NCAA threshold having just recently been increased to 35 ng/mL. While this is now in line with the NFL threshold, it is still much lower than other leagues, such as the MLB that sits at 50 ng/mL, and WADA (Olympics) that use 150 ng/mL for a positive result.
With these restrictions and bans on cannabis, not to mention negative outcomes for those in the industry that speak out in favor of its use, it is unlikely that any sensible and promising college athlete will risk an association that would put a stop to any meteoric rise before it even starts. Not to mention that the probability of marijuana use becoming universally accepted is just a matter of time.
Marijuana is already being researched as an alternative option for pain and concussion management. It is also being considered in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). A recent Athlete PEACE Survey study found that athletes do enjoy certain positive effects from cannabis use including less pain. Other positive effects include more energy, better athletic performance, reduced nausea, better sleep, and fewer muscle spasms. Though there were reports of some negative effects, the benefits so far have generally outweighed these impacts.
Building bridges between the sports world and the marijuana business has much health benefit potential to provide, particularly for athletes in injury-prone games that call for pain management. While the issuing of prescriptions for opioid painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet is accepted in the mainstream, their effects can be more devastating than any harm cannabis is alleged to cause.
Organizations such as Athletes for CARE are using their membership of former professional athletes to advocate for better research and standards of health that promote safety and quality of life. Some individual athletes are also aligning themselves with cannabis companies. Former Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski recently became the face of a cannabis firm, touting their product’s ability to help him deal with pain brought on by the multiple injuries and surgeries suffered throughout his career.
Ultimately, the ties between the cannabis industry and athletes are growing and attempts to prevent this association by NCAA and colleges is foolhardy. There are many ways in which cannabis can be of beneficial use for athletes during and after their careers. Not just in boosting their earnings, but also their health. As most indicators point to the positive impact of cannabis use on a broad scale, more research should be allowed to lead the way in influencing decision-making rather than knee jerk reactions brought on by misinformation and myths.
If you’re an athlete who used cannabis or CBD for pain management and want to contribute to the conversation, or if you know someone who did and would like to tell our readers, please feel free to comment below.