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Medical Marijuana & Professional Sports in Ohio

Acceptance of marijuana is still growing higher and higher. People with a range of conditions are coming forward and sharing their experiences with marijuana, leading to even more research and interest. Of these people, there have been several professional athletes who have shed a light on the benefits marijuana has for them specifically. So, if even professional athletes are using marijuana publicly, where do the leagues they play in stand?

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How Can Marijuana Benefit an Athlete?

In our previous blogs, we have outlined the wide range of benefits marijuana can give, including helping those with PTSD, AIDS, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. The changes marijuana causes in the body are immense, and so it is no wonder that some may be of interest to athletes specifically. The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD, for example, can help athletes recover from stressful workouts and games. Through their rigorous gym and cardio routines, inflammation caused by small injuries are common and can result in lower than average results. CBD, a main cannabinoid found in marijuana, can fight this inflammation, resulting in shorter healing periods [1]. Some scientists also believe that the terpenes found in full-flower marijuana are at least partly responsible for these effects as well [2].

Combine this anti-inflammatory effect with reduced pain and easier sleep, and athletes may be able to both recover faster and push harder. Neuropathic, sometimes referred to as nerve pain, is common in athletes, especially those who have played for an extended period in high-impact sports. This mysterious, often debilitating type of pain has caused problems in the medical community for decades, as it is not often cured with common techniques. Marijuana may provide relief to some people in this position, having been found to relieve pain that had previously been untouched by analgesics [3].

The increased ease of sleep marijuana offers can also help especially professional athletes, who are often playing late games in bright, loud areas. This can make it much more difficult to fall asleep, and with modern research continuously finding more benefits to sleep, can hurt their physicality. Luckily, this is another area where marijuana can help those having difficulty. THC can help people fall asleep quickly and easily, though this seems to be dosage-dependent [4].

However, marijuana may also have negative effects in the eyes of athletes. As an example, though marijuana may help people fall asleep faster, sleep quality is generally lower than those who have not used marijuana to fall asleep. This is likely due to less REM cycles, and less REM cycles can be linked to several dangerous side-effects. 

Physical damage caused by smoking marijuana can also occur. The American Lung Association warns that smoking marijuana can lead to lung damage from the same carcinogens and toxins as tobacco smoke [5]. It goes on to say that this damage can lead to chronic cough, wheezing, and acute bronchitis, all of which can greatly reduce physical potential. 

Where do the Major Leagues Stand on Marijuana?

In this case, we will look into the four largest sports leagues in the United States, the NFL, NHL, MLB, and the NBA. 

  • NBA: The NBA and NFL are the two most strict leagues concerning marijuana use. In the NBA, the players are tested six times total; four times during the season, and twice offseason. Should the player return a positive result, the first offence results in a mandatory substance abuse program, a second with a large fine, and the third and above resulting in longer and longer suspensions.
  • NFL: The largest sports league in the US also has likely the strongest testing done. In order to produce a positive result, a player only needs to have nearly half of the number of cannabinoids in their blood compared to a marijuana-positive MLB player. This goes along with the NFL’s stance on marijuana itself, strictly prohibited. Interestingly, this stance may start to slowly shift. The recent agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA has resulted in two major things: first, that each team will now get a mental health professional assigned, and second, a committee will be formed that will assess alternatives to current analgesics. This, combined with increasing number of ex-NFL players voicing support for marijuana, may result in a slow turn towards acceptance. 
  • NHL: The NHL stands alone in regard to marijuana policies, and for good reason, 28 of the 31 teams in the NHL come from areas where marijuana is legal in one way or another. Canada, being a major proving ground for many NHL-hopefuls, has also recently legalized even recreational use. The NHL also has one of the most forgiving punishments if marijuana is found during substance testing, which is to say, it nearly doesn’t even exist. If an NHL player is found to have high levels of cannabinoids in their system, they will be referred to the Performance Enhancing Substances Program Committee where they may be recommended to enter treatment from there. The player’s name is not made public, and there is no fine attached to the program. 
  • MLB: The MLB does not outright test for “drugs of abuse” during their random drug tests, instead requiring reasonable cause before screening. However, should the league have reasonable cause, and a player test positive, the player is then sent a treatment plan and must pay a hefty fine. Should the player violates any of these conditions, they are then suspended. 


In Conclusion


Overall, there is some scientific backing for athletes to use marijuana for enhanced recovery, not to say there are no drawbacks either. In the professional world, though, there is seemingly little in the way of acceptance, and players must weigh both pros and cons should they be subject to large fines or suspensions. 


Cited Works

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12412831/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6308289/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224384/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15118485

[5] https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/smoking-facts/marijuana-and-lung-health.html