In the sporting world, players’ associations have consistently called for the review of the regulations criminalizing cannabis use in all its forms. The pro-cannabis movement argued that a supervised use of cannabis products could help players pull through the physical and mental challenges commonly linked with a long-term career in the major leagues of the world. As expected, the regulatory bodies governing the major leagues at a point opposed the new wave of opinions calling for the decriminalization of cannabis products. Citing safety concerns as on cannabis products as published by the FDA, the sporting bodies argued that cannabis could do more harm than good in the long run and subsequently upheld the strict anti-cannabis rules. 

The pro-cannabis movement in sports recorded a huge victory when the World Anti-Doping Agency reviewed its drug policy guidelines in 2018. The World Anti-Doping Agency is responsible for ensuring adherence to anti-doping policies and regulations within sport organizations and governments across the world. The new updated policy specifically reviewed the ban on cannabis and cannabis-derived products by stating that all-natural and synthetic cannabinoids and cannabinoids-derived products are prohibited in sport except for cannabidiol. As an expected ripple effect, sporting bodies across the globe either relaxed their anti-cannabis rules or completely allowed the use of cannabis in certain forms.  


Regulations guiding cannabis use in the National Football League

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive component of the Cannabis sativa plant. Early research inquiries into anecdotal evidence supporting cannabis use have revealed that cannabidiol is responsible for most of the beneficial effects recorded by people who use the full spectrum cannabis product. Different studies and research have also provided conclusive evidence suggesting that cannabidiol interacts with receptors and enzymes in the complex endocannabinoid system. CBD has shown impressive results in the management of chronic pains, sleep disorders, depression, substance use abuse, and anxiety. It also reduces the time frame for injury recovery. 

In the National Football League, there are no defined rules guiding CBD use; however, cannabis use is guided by provisions of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) as negotiated by a joint committee of the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) in 2011. Under the 2011 CBA, any player’s drug test that showed with more than 15ng/ml of THC is considered a positive test. The drug limit was subsequently pegged at 35 ng/ml in 2014. Players with positive drug tests were punished with a compulsory enrollment in a three-stage drug treatment program. Violations made while on this program were punishable by a fine or suspension from the league. 

In March 2020, the NFLPA voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement that directly addresses the possibility of a policy review on cannabis use. According to the provisions of the new agreement, violations of law for marijuana possession generally will not result in suspension. The new provision also stated that the testing period will now be limited to the first two weeks of training camp, and the drug limit threshold for a positive test will now be increased to 150 ng/ml. In January 2020, the NFL-NFLPA’s Pain Management Committee held a forum for manufacturers of CBD products with the aim of examining how the new products can enhance pain management in elite players within the confines of valid research and scientific inquiries on CBD efficacy and safety. 


NFL players using cannabidiol for pain management

  • Rob Grownkoski

Rob Gronkowski is a known advocate for the decriminalization of CBD in sports, especially the NFL. Popularly known as “Gronk,” Gronkowski is a former New England Patriot who retired early amid a reported injury crisis and thereafter endorsed CBD for professional athletes. In 2019, Gronk made an announcement in a formal press conference of plans to partner with Abacus Health. The company is a globally known brand in natural health and fitness products. As if that wasn’t enough, Gronk reportedly vowed to un-retire if the NFL allowed players to use CBD products. After the approval of the new CBA, in April 2020, Gronk officially announced his return to the NFL now that the NFL’s strict anti-cannabis laws are relaxed. 



  • Terrell Davis

Davis is arguably the most popular NFL player championing the drive for the use of CBD in the NFL. The two-time Denver Broncos Super Bowl champion surely knows how to leverage personal sports achievement for a pro-CBD campaign. Davis has many times announced how cannabidiol provided a viable therapy option for personal battles against migraine, concussion, and joint pains. Davis would then embark on a global campaign calling for the decriminalization of cannabidiol in sports. 


  • Ricky Williams

Ricky Williams enjoyed a prolific NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, and New Orleans Saints. Dubbed the ‘Texas Tornado,” Williams suffered many injury woes as a direct consequence of the rigorous runs and work ethic he is known for. Many sporting news agencies reported that Williams lost several millions of dollars in fines and endorsement deals as punishment for using cannabis products while in active play. Now, he has turned around to endorse CBD use in the NFL. Currently, Williams is involved in many pro-CBD campaigns calling for the decriminalization of CBD across all boards in the sporting world. 


  • Jake Plummer

Jake Plummer is popular face in the movement challenging anti-cannabis sport rules while also advocating for CBD use in pro athletes. Unlike other players on this list, Plummer’s ten-year NFL career is not brilliantly spectacular; however, the Plummer’s contributions to CBD movement cannot be overlooked. Plummer shares pro-CBD views, and drives advocacy through a campaign called “When the Bright Light Fades.” The achievements of this campaign are well known in the sporting world. Plummer has contributed to cannabis research at all levels in a bid to create a global awareness for the potential benefits of cannabis in the NFL and other sports leagues.  


As more pro-cannabis rules are enacted in the sporting world, it is expected that more players will join the train by advocating for the use of CBD in sports globally.


Ian Parkes

Ian has been writing for a number of high growth industries for the past decade. Having plied his trade in the craft beer industry, Ian drew parallels between that and the world of CBD and soon became fascinated. Ian enjoys writing about innovation in the industry, particularly as it relates to the development of the leading brands.

See all posts by Ian Parkes

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