Athletes are speaking up in support of cannabis, and the bodies that govern the regulations around professional sports are listening.
Late last year, people were stunned when MMA fighter Nate Diaz was seen vaping something at a post-fight press conference. It was hemp CBD, and when asked about it, Diaz explained that he used hemp CBD for his recovery process after fighting because of its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relief properties.
Since then, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has removed hemp-derived cannabidiol from their list of prohibited substances for 2018, prompting athletes to embrace the role CBD can play in their training routines.
Nate Diaz prompted the sports and cannabis communities to open up a dialogue about hemp CBD, and there’s still a long way to go in exploring for cannabis’ benefits for athletes. Here are some other prominent athletes who are working to change the conversation:
Puffing Instead of Pill Popping
One pro-athlete was forced to leave the NFL and retire his football career because he refused to pop pills for pain relief, and was denied use of medical cannabis.
Eugene Monroe of the Baltimore Ravens publicly chastised the NFL for not allowing players to use prescribed cannabis. Following his vocal advocacy, he was let go from the Ravens and soon announced his full retirement from the game. Following his departure, he explained his reluctance to use pills: “Anti-inflammatories or opioids, which I certainly don’t want to take,” he said of his refusal to use prescriptions, “[are] the option to stay within the rules of the game.” Staying resolute about his stance on opioids, Monroe will now use his time outside the NFL to publicly promote the benefits of medical cannabis.
Opioid use and abuse within pro sports, the NFL specifically, is a problem; the prominence of opioid abuse within the sport is shocking. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine examined 644 NFL players in 2011. 52% of these players said they used prescription opioids during their football career. Of those 336 players, 71% admitted to misusing or abusing what was prescribed to them.
Pro athletes are permitted to use strong opioids while engaged in sport, but using medical cannabis, or cannabis-derived (as opposed to hemp-derived) CBD is strictly prohibited.
Reclaiming the Dialogue
In the 1998 Nagano Olympics, controversy erupted around Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati when cannabis was found in his system. Just after a gold-metal win at the first ever Olympic games for snowboarding, Rebagliati was disqualified.
Defending himself in a time when cannabis was prohibited, Rebagliati tried to blame the presence of cannabis in his system on second-hand smoke from hanging out with his friends and attending cannabis-filled parties in Whistler. A tough fall from grace followed, but Rebagliati quickly recovered, emerging as a proud cannabis advocate. When Canada legalizes cannabis later this year, Rebagliati-founded brand “Ross’ Gold” (pun intended), is expected to enter the market.
“Ross’ Gold” will be part of Rebagliati’s efforts to promote a new image for cannabis, as “family-oriented [and] family-friendly. It’s a healthy part of people’s lives,” a message aimed at easing the concerns of those who have not yet warmed to this contemporary perspective on cannabis.
Is Cannabis Performance Enhancing?
While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has removed cannabidiol from the list of prohibited substances, the argument persists as to whether cannabis is performance enhancing.
Rebagliati believes that yes, cannabis enhances your performance, but he also adds that everything you bring into your sport, from the clothes you wear to the equipment you use, is performance enhancing.
According to WADA, a performance-enhancing drug: “must have the potential to enhance sport performance; represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete; or violates the spirit of sport.” It’ll be up for advocates on both sides of this issue to show how cannabis does or does not fit into this definition.
Will all forms of cannabis eventually be accepted by professional sports authorities? Not likely any time soon. While certain countries like the USA and Canada represent more liberal views on cannabis use, anti-doping agencies usually represent the interests of hundreds of countries, many of whom hold views more conservative than North America’s and may supersede its authority
“I don’t anticipate [cannabis is] going to be taken off the list in the near future,” said Paul Melia, president of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES), an affiliate of the World Anti-Doping Agency. This statement illustrates the influence and repercussions of international anti-doping policies and perspectives.
We will be watching with enthusiasm as more athletes emerge as proud cannabis users and begin to change how the public, and the entire sports and athletic communities, see cannabis.
Anne-Marie is a freelance cannabis writer and educator dedicated to cultivating and disseminating important knowledge about cannabis as legalization spreads across the globe. After earning her BA and Masters, she followed an exciting career in the research and education field, finding innovative ways to create collaborations between community needs and research and academic pursuits.
She traveled the world with her husband and settled in Costa Rica where they also own a tattoo shop. She is now a full time writer for the world’s best cannabis companies, advocates and organizations.