Medical cannabis is controversial in many circles. One of the reasons for resistance has been a lack of high-quality research demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis in the management of various conditions.
This is starting to change as more research becomes available. Another major change is the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes. The federal government was hoping to legalize cannabis across Canada in summer 2018, although there are still some questions as to when recreational cannabis will become legal.
The United States is also looking at legalization, both of medical marijuana and of cannabis more widely. Currently, 29 of the 50 states have adopted medicinal use programs. Nine have legalized cannabis more generally.
Many people use or have used cannabis, whether medicinally or recreationally. Many professional athletes are among those who use cannabis to manage or treat medical conditions, and they’re now speaking out.
Why Cannabis Is Banned in Sports
Traditionally, cannabis has been banned in most major sports. Most major sports leagues, including the NBA, NFL, and MLB, have rules against the use of cannabis by players, at any time, for any reason. The NHL is silent on the subject, although the league does test players. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has revised some of its rules against cannabis, paving the way for athletes to use it outside of competition.
There are a few reasons cannabis has been banned in sports. First and foremost, the substance has been classified as a Schedule II drug in Canada and a Class I narcotic in the US. For decades, it has been illegal to possess any amount of cannabis for any reason.
Other issues surrounding the use of cannabis by professional athletes include concerns that it may have performance-enhancing properties or be used to mask the use of performance-enhancing substances. There are some concerns its use also poses a health risk to athletes.
An Alternative to Other Medications
Athletes have been speaking out about these policies, suggesting they’re too punitive and need to be revisited. Many of these athlete advocates use medical cannabis themselves. The most common reason is to relieve pain they endure from injuries. Other uses include the management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, and insomnia.
Most medical research thus far supports the idea that medical cannabis has pain-relieving properties. Many NFL players are advocating the use of medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids and other pain pills, which carry the risk of addiction, kidney disease, liver failure, and more.
As noted, WADA has changed its rules to allow athletes to utilize cannabis outside of competition. CBD products are allowed at any time. This is indicative of a larger change within the sports industry, although many professional sports leagues seem reluctant to review their policies.
Most of the players speaking out believe the strict policies against medical cannabis are actually because of its legal status and social beliefs that cannabis is a “bad drug.” This stigma leads leagues to develop strict punishments for players using medical cannabis, while allowing them to use “legal drugs” such as opioids with reckless abandon.
The NFL has expressed the idea that it’s worth looking into medical cannabis research to determine if it can be used as effective and safe pain management. So far, the league’s advisors haven’t recommended any changes, and the NFL doesn’t appear to intend to revisit the policy any time soon.
Change Is Coming
One thing appears to be certain, and it’s that change is coming. As cannabis becomes more established in the medical field, sports leagues will have no choice but to revisit their policies. As more athletes advocate for acceptance of medical cannabis as a legitimate treatment, the pressure to change will only continue to grow.