The NFL's Marijuana Policy is Still Evolving Jump to Recipe
The National Football League (NFL), is comprised of 32 teams and over a thousand players, and has been the most popular sport in America for decades. But there’s a new player on the field: marijuana. As states continue to legalize cannabis products, many are wondering if it’s time for football’s governing body to update its policies as well. The short answer? It’s already happening.
What Is The Buzz On Cannabis?
Cannabis has become increasingly popular in mainstream America. This is due to several reasons, such as:
- The fear that opioids are overprescribed.
- Marijuana is legal for recreational use across the country, which means more people than ever are using cannabis.
- The stigma that cannabis is only for “lazy stoners” is wearing off, which means people see it less as a “drug” and more of an everyday staple for those in medical need.
Today, medical marijuana is legal in 36 states and Washington D.C. 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have legalized cannabis for recreational use as well - New York, Virginia, New Mexico, and Connecticut all did so in 2021.
With more people turning to marijuana as a non-addictive, natural alternative for pain relief, the NFL has taken notice. But will the NFL drug policy change?
What Is The NFL Football And Cannabis Policy 2021?
The new NFL football and cannabis policy 2021 is a blueprint that outlines the league’s policies related to cannabis. In March 2020, the NFL made some significant announcements regarding cannabis use. First, a new NFL drug policy was implemented due to the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The NFL and NFL Players Association recognized that its cannabis policy should aid players rather than penalize them for using marijuana.
The NFL also announced that it would be modifying its policies to allow for the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids and make necessary accommodations for those players who test positive for cannabis. In response to the new policy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that medical advisers have monitored several studies that indicate cannabis could be an effective pain management tool for players.
As a result, football players are no longer immediately banned after testing positive for using cannabis as part of the NFL drug testing policy. Instead, they are allowed to be prescribed medical marijuana by a physician if the drug is deemed necessary for that player’s treatment. In addition, players who test positive for THC have tests reviewed by a medical professional board that will decide if the specific player requires any treatment and if they can receive a reduced or suspended punishment.
The NFL has also given players who failed their drug tests an opportunity to prove that they used cannabis for medical purposes. If a player can prove the connection between their use of cannabis and medical treatment, they will not face any penalties or sanctions.
What Is New In 2022?
On February 1, 2022, the NFL announced a $1 million donation to cannabinoid research. Specifically, these studies will explore:
- The efficacy of cannabinoids for game-related, "soft-tissue injury pain," and any adverse effects measured, conducted by researchers at the University of California San Diego
- Measure whether THC and CBD are options for safe, effective pain management and "to reduce the use of prescription medications including opioids in post-concussion syndrome athletes," conducted by researchers at the University of Regina
The research studies were chosen by the NFL's Joint Pain Management Committee, whose goal is to understand alternative options to pain management. The league's Chief Medical Officer stated -
"As with the league's broader approach to health and safety, we want to ensure that our players are receiving care that reflects the most up-to-date medical consensus," said Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer. "While the burden of proof is high for NFL players who want to understand the impact of any medical decision on their performance, we are grateful that we have the opportunity to fund these scientifically-sound studies on the use of cannabinoids that may lead to the discovery of data-based evidence that could impact the pain management of our players."
What Was The NFL’s Stance On Cannabis Before This Update?
Before 2021, each positive test for marijuana resulted in a certain number of game suspensions under the NFL drug policy suspension rules. The last chance for a player was a fifth positive test, which required the player to sit out 10 whole games before returning. If a player tested positive for the sixth time, they would be permanently suspended.
Why Is The NFL Modifying Its Policy On Cannabis Use?
The modifications of this policy are a result of scientific research and public opinion. Over the past few years, studies have shown that cannabis has a wide range of medical benefits. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is particularly interested in the medical benefits of cannabis, as it has the power to ease chronic pain, one of the most common conditions among football players.
The NFL is also concerned about public opinion. More Americans have become aware of the medicinal benefits of cannabis with the legalization in many states and, as result, lawmakers have been pressured to relax their laws on cannabis use. Organizations like the NFL find it more challenging to justify strict policies on cannabis when public opinion is against them.
The NFL’s new policy on marijuana does not mean that players will be allowed to consume any time they want. Players will still be tested and disciplined for failing a drug test if their THC levels exceed 35 ng/mL.
How Can Medical Marijuana Benefit Football Players?
One of the biggest impacts that cannabis has on the athletic industry is its benefit for sports injuries. Cannabis is used to treat inflammation and chronic pain. These conditions are common among football players, and the NFL realizes that medical marijuana could be an excellent solution to help them manage these conditions. Research also demonstrates that cannabis may reduce anxiety and depression, two mental health issues prevalent among players.
Cannabis has been shown to be effective at reducing inflammation, which is the root of many injuries. This anti-inflammatory property can help players heal faster from training and injuries.
Chronic pain is a common ailment among NFL players because of the physicality of football. Cannabis is a good solution for pain management.
Many mental health issues plague NFL players, such as anxiety and depression. Cannabis seems to be effective at improving mood by reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.
Medical marijuana can also have a positive impact on football as a whole. The use of cannabis may give players more clarity so they can focus on their training and play without fear of injury. Healthy players mean a healthier league and higher morale for everyone. Cannabis has the power to redefine the sport of football and pain management completely.
What Drugs Are Still Not Welcomed By The NFL?
Players who are found using the following drugs will continue to face penalties and sanctions:
- Steroids, human growth hormone (HGH): These drugs can cause serious health problems and increase the risk of injury.
- Cocaine: This drug is associated with addiction. It has been known to cause damage to the heart, brain, and nervous system.
- Opiates: These are commonly associated with painkillers or prescription medications.
- Ecstasy: This drug is thought to induce memory problems in users.
- PCP: This drug can be extremely dangerous and lead to violent behavior in users. It can also cause psychosis, a severe mental health issue.
- Alcohol: Although alcohol is legal in most places, it can cause liver damage and other health problems when abused. NFL players will be subject to consequences for drinking during any practices or games.
Debunking The Myths Of Medical Cannabis Use
There are many myths and misconceptions about medical cannabis use and professional athletes, including the following:
Medical Marijuana Gets You High
Medical cannabis contains compounds that can help with pain and inflammation, but not every type of strain causes a high like other strains. For anyone looking for pain relief without a high feeling of THC, CBD oil is an excellent option as it is welcomed under NFL CBD policy.
Medical Marijuana Kills Brain Cells
There is no scientific evidence that shows cannabis kills brain cells. In fact, some studies indicate that it can protect the brain from damage, help with mood disorders, and kill cancerous cells.
Medical Marijuana is a Gateway Drug
The use of medical cannabis does not necessarily mean someone will move on to using other dangerous drugs, such as heroin. Marijuana is very different from other dangerous drugs and will only lead to abuse if someone has an addiction issue they are not managing.
Medical Marijuana Is Addictive
Although medical cannabis can be abused, it does not typically lead to addiction unless someone has a pre-existing condition. For example, some people who suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression turn to cannabis to manage their symptoms. However, they may find themselves turning to the drug regularly without realizing they are using it too much.
What Does This Mean For The Future Of Professional Sports?
The NFL has also given players who failed their drug tests an opportunity to prove that they used cannabis for medical purposes, even if they tested positive for THC. If a player can prove the connection between their use of cannabis and medical treatment, they will not face any penalties or sanctions. So, what does this mean for the future of professional sports?
Players will still be tested and disciplined for failing a drug test if their THC levels exceed 35 ng/mL. Regardless, medical cannabis has proven to provide lasting relief to some of the top physical and mental health issues athletes face, completely revolutionizing the way athletes manage their pain. This could be the next step in sports medicine, especially for professional athletes who rely on physical endurance and mental clarity to perform at the highest level.
Floridians are no strangers to the developing story. Brady’s best bud, Rob Gronkowski allegedly was inspired to come out of retirement and join the Bucs due to the league’s laxed view on cannabis. 2020 was a tough year for all, but the Buccaneers proved to be the 20-21 season Super Bowl Champs, and as of late November of this year, statisticians are saying that a rematch of the Bucs and Chiefs is highly likely.
A Step Forward For Athletes Across Sports
Without a doubt, the NFL’s new policy on medical cannabis has drastically changed from previous rulings and is trending toward a more progressive approach. By allowing players to use medical cannabis for specific conditions, the NFL has taken a step forward in ensuring that athletes are healthy and protected from the risks of developing an addiction to prescription painkillers.
If the NFL approves it, will everyone else? We’re looking forward to seeing even more professional sports leagues revisit and update their cannabis policies in the coming year. It’s about time already!
*Editor's note: This post was originally posted 12/22/2021 and updated 2/11/2022 to include the NFL's donation to cannabis research.