In the past decades, the United States has witnessed a steady rise in the acceptance of CBD. Since hemp-derived CBD was federally legalized with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, that acceptance has become increasingly mainstream. Breakthroughs in medical research add more positive benefits to the conversation; it seems that the CBD industry is now unstoppable, and enterprises that previously forbade their constituents from using the cannabinoid are now taking a second look and reversing their restrictions. To some surprise, CBD is even gaining due recognition by major sports franchises.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid derived from the hemp plant. It has more recently gained traction in the world of medicine due to its various beneficial properties. From pain and inflammation to anxiety and insomnia, CBD relieves a range of conditions conventionally treated with pharmaceuticals that often carry dangerous side effects. With this in mind, many are turning to natural alternatives to relieve their ailments and boost their health. Athletes are no exception. Check out this article to learn more about why athletes are turning to CBD specifically to address their health concerns!
Unfortunately, professional athletes have largely been barred from using any and all forms of cannabis. This is due to concerns over the effects of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychotropic cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. Because THC induces a mind-altering state, athletic officials have been apprehensive about its potential to influence athletes in ways that may compromise the integrity of the competition. While the concern is certainly reasonable, its validity has waned with modern research and changing legislation.
Cannabis naturally contains both THC and CBD, but legally defined hemp is only permitted a maximum of 0.3% THC. Some hemp contains no THC whatsoever: hemp-derived products of this sort are considered broad spectrum, meaning no traces of psychoactive compounds may be found in them. If THC is the main concern held by athletic franchises, non-psychoactive CBD should not be lumped into the same category. Fortunately, many recognize the difference between these two cannabinoids and have begun to change regulations accordingly.
The WADA and the USADA
The first major milestone came in 2018 when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) quickly followed suit, allowing the use of CBD both during and outside of athletic competitions. Both agencies continue to prohibit the ingestion of THC while competing; however, they have raised the urinary testing threshold, allowing athletes to consume small quantities of THC outside of professional competitions.
Since 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) has become one of the more lenient franchises regarding hemp and cannabis. To start, they do not routinely test for cannabinoids throughout or at the start of the season. Testing is only performed with probable cause, and even then, low levels of THC are not considered cause for concern.
The MLB took their acceptance of CBD one step further in 2022 when they partnered with a Colorado-based CBD company, officially dubbing the business the “Official CBD of Major League Baseball.” The landmark partnership is the first of its kind: no other major sports league has developed official sponsorship with a CBD enterprise. The decision comes after the league performed extensive research on the benefits of the popular cannabinoid, choosing Charlotte’s Web after reviewing their products’ safety and efficacy standards.
Following the MLB’s decision to allow individual teams to accept CBD sponsorships, the Chicago Cubs became the first Major League team to develop a CBD partnership. Chicago-based Mynd Drinks crafts CBD-infused beverages that will be available for purchase at Wrigley Field with the advent of the 2023 season, helping pioneer an exciting new era in CBD’s mainstream appeal.
Starting in 2020, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that they will not continue testing for marijuana, including cannabinoids CBD and THC. No longer considered “drugs for abuse” or “performance-enhancing substances” by the league, the doors are open for CBD partnerships, which would focus on performance-based products aimed at helping athletes through physical recovery.
The National Football League (NFL) began exploring CBD’s potential in 2020 when they hosted a forum alongside the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and medical experts to better understand CBD in relation to sports medicine. Though no changes were made to substance testing guidelines at that time, the forum opened the league to further discussion of CBD’s many benefits.
Later in 2022, the NFL awarded medical researchers at the University of California San Diego and the University of Regina $1 million in research funds to investigate the relationship between cannabinoids and pain management and neuroprotection. While the NFL does not endorse the use of CBD, they no longer test for the cannabinoid when testing for marijuana and more specifically, THC.
As of 2023, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) stance on CBD and cannabis is somewhat loose. While they do test players for CBD and THC when testing for other substances, cannabis compounds do not carry considerable penalties and are not listed as prohibited substances. Rather, when a player regularly tests positive for high levels of cannabinoids, they are simply referred to a substance abuse program.
Although some sports leagues leave room for improvement, many others have made exciting landmark decisions that solidify CBD’s mainstream appeal. We look forward to the future of sports and CBD as partnerships form, sponsorships develop, and testing standards relax.