The role of cannabis for sports fans and players

by | May 22, 2019

Back in the day, when I was the captain of my track and field team in high school, I and my friends would go to a friend’s house during practice to smoke weed before returning. Never did I think it might actually help me compete.

Now mind you, I did sometimes find myself practicing particularly well at times. I would be in the fabled zone I mentioned last week, where everything came effortlessly, and the work seemed enjoyable. I wouldn’t be surprised if the weed had something to do with it: a few years back, a study measured endocannabinoid signalling in the brain during exercise and found increased signalling during moderate exercise in particular. Could the runner’s high and my high be one and the same? We’ll find out more over time, but today’s athletes and spectators aren’t waiting around for science – or even the pro organizations which govern their sport – to catch up with them. Rather they’re taking the lead by organizing, educating and leading the cannabis movement.

Clearly, we’ve come a long way since Ross Reglibiati briefly lost his snowboarding Olympic gold medal after testing positive for THC. But we still have a lot of stigma and fear to overcome. Speaking as the CEO for Medicine Box, I recognize cannabis’s utility for both sports fans and players. Both, however, use it for different reasons, and overall, athletes suffer the most for making this entirely personal choice for their own health. And while attitudes are changing – for instance, Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball league made headlines when it allowed its players to use CBD therapy last year – only when the fans start speaking out on behalf of the players will we start to see leagues taking this seriously.

Cannabis and sports spectatorship

Go out to any sports stadium – football, baseball, soccer, it doesn’t really matter – and you’re bound to get a whiff of weed. And you’ll see beer ads all over the place – matter of fact, you might even be drinking some of it yourself while you watch the game. But not too much – in most stadiums, you’re limited to two cups, and there’s usually a cutoff point, ranging anywhere from the end of the 7th inning in baseball to the end of the second period for NHL. Anyone who remembers the infamous Pistons-Pacers game of 2004 knows that if you don’t know when to cut off the fans, you’ve got a fight on your hands.

Yet when it comes to even countenancing cannabis consumption, much less selling it in the concessions stand, we’re at an impasse for now. And that’s a shame: back in 2004 during the Euro 2004 soccer tournament in Lisbon between France and England, local law enforcement announced they would not intervene in individual consumption of cannabis on the streets. The result? The peace was kept throughout the day, even when England lost, and only broken once the fans started drinking in the bars. This story, shared in the book Marijuana Is Safer, So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, wasn’t very well-reported in US media at the time. One can only wonder as to why.

For now, it’s doubtful stadiums will take cannabis cash even if they want to. Believe it or not, I’m okay with that for now, as I feel it’s too soon for sponsorships. In cases like this, it’s the athletes that need to take the lead in normalizing the plant. Beer companies have already staked out this territory, which is unfortunate, because I have to wonder what sort of shift a cannabis health and wellness supplement advertisement could inspire amongst a sports crowd – especially if the product is actively being used by the athletes on the field. In terms of impact and interconnectedness, it could change the culture of sports in a deeply positive way. But it all rests on the backs of the athletes. 

cannabis and sports players

Cannabis and athletes

Only a decade after Reglibiati’s incident, Michael Phelps followed when a video of him inhaling from a bong hit the internet. The response was swift and furious: he lost an endorsement deal with Kellogg’s and suffered a three-month suspension from USA Swimming. Too bad he didn’t wait ten more years, since the support network for cannabis, in practically any sport you can name, is quite vast

The NFL has the biggest groundswell of activism for cannabis reform, with former players like Marvin Washington and James McMahon advocating for its use and the Gridiron Cannabis Collective agitating from without to encourage reform. Further ahead of the curve is the NHL, which doesn’t test for cannabis during the off-season, and responds to THC in a given player’s system with treatment instead of punishment if the level is unusually high. Former NBA commissioner David Stern, in an interview with former player-turned-cannabis entrepreneur Al Harrington, declared that medical marijuana should be allowed as treatment by the NBA. Even golf players have embraced the CBD craze, though like the NHL, the PGA warns its players to be careful where they get the stuff. After all, there might be too much THC in the mix, and we wouldn’t want that…

full football stadium

Of course, the argument isn’t about what people want. It’s about what they NEED. And athletes certainly need more than the opioids they’re usually prescribed by sports medics. I would like to give a shout out to Dr. Craig Davies, a golf trainer on the PGA circuit, who understands that people may need more than CBD isolate for their pain and soreness. “They’ve actually shown that the THC at that low of a dose (0.3%) is not psychoactive and it increases the effect of the other components of the plant. It’s actually a better-quality plant for anti-anxiety, promoting sleep, anti-pain and anti-inflammatory.”

The first step is getting trainers and doctors onboard with the new developments in cannabis, particularly for sleep and recovery. Of course, beyond just educating them on the plant itself, one should also introduce these medical professionals to the radical wellness model that cannabis represents – one which we’ll be tackling in the next blog post. While everyone stands to benefit from embracing a mindful approach to health and wellness, it is athletes, those that exemplify the capability of the body and mind at peak performance, that can most effectively display the benefits of such a lifestyle for society at large. After all, when you’ve balanced body, mind and spirit, how can you lose?

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