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Discussion points focused on cannabis regulations in the major sports leagues have dominated headlines for years. From the more relaxed drug rules of the National Hockey League to the strict rules of the Major League Baseball pundits and players have discussed the dynamic nature of rules guiding cannabinoids and other natural products in sports. Cannabidiol is one of the most researched natural cannabinoids derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. Cannabis has been used for centuries in the management of chronic and rare diseases in humans. Extracts of this plant have been used in the treatment of chronic pain, convulsion, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. As a non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis, cannabidiol is used widely in integrative healthcare.
The NBA has a strict drug policy that effectively limits the number of drug substances available to NBA players. For many years, players’ associations and organizing bodies have tried to navigate the conventional rules governing drug use in sports. In 2018, the Farm Bill Act decriminalized hemp and allowed its distribution across state lines. As a ripple effect, the commercial production of hemp and hemp-derived cannabidiol increased tremendously. The global cannabis market increased awareness for cannabis-derived products and attempted to develop specially formulated cannabis products for elite sportsmen. With the wave of advocacy campaigns for the use of cannabis in sports, many elite leagues relaxed their drug policy to create room for cannabidiol.
Subsequently, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed cannabidiol from its list of prohibited substances in sports. With effect from January 1, 2020, WADA’s provision allowed the in-competition use of cannabidiol. Although WADA’s directive allowed cannabidiol use in sports, professional leagues are not required to forcefully comply with this directive.
The case for cannabidiol in the NBA
As a contact sport, basketball players go through rigorous training drills and playing schedules during every open season. NBA players are also vulnerable to injuries and after-play fatigues. In 2010. Sports Health published the reports of a 17-year review detailing the injury stats in the NBA. According to the stats published, injuries to the lower extremities account for about 63% of all reported injuries. These types of injuries are the most common in the NBA. Of all injuries reported, Injuries to the upper extremities and the torso accounts for about 13% and 12.9%, respectively. Other commonly reported injuries include ankle sprains, patellofemoral syndrome, and lumbar spine injuries.
Players consistently need reliable pain management therapy that can effectively treat injuries and reduce playing time lost to injuries. In many cases, opioids and conventional analgesic drugs are the only available drug therapy options. Many research inquiries have detailed the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol for players partaking in endurance and full-contact sports. By modulating the actions of the endocannabinoids system, cannabidiol can effectively manage chronic pain, improve muscle recovery, manage concussion, hasten tissue healing time, strengthen bones, and accelerate fracture healing. It is logical that concerned players and stakeholders would move for the legalization of cannabidiol in the NBA.
Regulations guiding cannabis use in the NBA
The National Basketball Association is known for its strict drug policies. Cannabis and cannabis-derived products were expressly banned in the NBA in 1999. Players were subjected to four random tests yearly, and drug tests are not expected to reveal THC content higher than 15ng/ml. At a higher concentration, a player is considered positive for marijuana. Defaulters are expected to comply with a treatment program and subsequently submit for a second test. A second positive test attracts a $25,000 fine. Subsequently, positive tests are punished appropriately with game suspensions.
In December 2016, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that will run through the 2023-24 season. Although there are new inclusions in the new agreement, the NBA policy on cannabis and cannabis-derived products remains largely unchanged.
NBA players supporting cannabidiol use
- Al Harrington
Al Harrington is a strong proponent of cannabidiol use in the NBA. The former power forward played for seven different teams in an adventurous 16-years career. Harrington started discussing the possibilities of introducing cannabidiol into the NBA while still active. Harrington started using cannabidiol products for the management of severe pain in 2012 while playing for the Denver Nuggets. Currently, Harrington owns a cannabidiol company named after his grandmother, whose glaucoma was eased with medical marijuana. Harrington has continued to advocate for the use of cannabidiol in the NBA and had reportedly lobbied the NBAPA President on the said subject.
- Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom is a prolific basketball star whose 14-year NBA career featured back-to-back championship wins. In 2015, Odom made the headlines for overdosing in Nevada. As expected, different media outfits rushed to cover Odom’s highly-publicized rehabilitation program and narcotic addiction stories. Odom was reportedly quoted to have credited medical marijuana and hemp-derived CBD for his accelerated recovery from addiction. In 2018, Odom decided to venture into the cannabis industry. Later on in the year, Odom launched his brand of CBD products while also partnering with an e-liquid vape company to produce CBD pens.
- Paul Pierce
Nicknamed “The Truth” by Bolton Celtic fans, Paul Pierce is an NBA star widely known for his illustrious 19-years career and incredible style of play. On September 2, 2000, Paul underwent emergency surgery after he was reportedly stabbed 11 times in a night club. As a result of this, Paul suffered from PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Paul would later use cannabidiol in an integrative therapy approach to managing his many health issues. In 2019, Paul announced the launch of his own CBD line called The Truth Remedies. Now, as a cannabis entrepreneur, Paul has reaffirmed his stance in advocating for the use of cannabidiol in the NBA.
- Rick Barry
The former NBA and ABA star is considered one of the most famous Golden State Warriors of all time. Barry is popular for his impressive basketball skills and scoring records. His 14-year professional career is laden with trophies and accolades that evidently confirmed his winning abilities. Barry is one of the discussion points when basketball fans discuss cannabidiol products. In 2017, the NBA star was one of the speakers at the O’Cannabiz Cannabis Expo, where he supported the legalization of cannabidiol products as a representative of Folium Bioscience.
Compared to other major leagues, the anti-drug policy of the NBA is strict and, at the moment, creates no room for the introduction of progressive changes. However, many players in NBA are consistently advocating for cannabidiol use in the league.