More athletes than ever before are using cannabis as a part of their exercise regimen. But from collegiate play to the major sports leagues, regulations haven’t kept up with public opinion, or even the law. Even if you live in a country or state where cannabis is legal, that doesn’t mean that you have the green light to use cannabis as an athlete—at least without fearing sanctions and penalties.
Some sports leagues are more progressive than others, and the question of who gets to use cannabis largely depends on the game you play. Here’s a look into the complex world of using medical cannabis as an athlete.
More than a third of the 123 major sports teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL currently play in U.S. states, or in Canada, where, in at least some places, cannabis is legal for recreational adult use. Nearly half of these teams play in states or provinces where medical cannabis is legal.
To put that into perspective, more than eight out of every ten teams in the major four sports leagues currently play in locations where it’s legal to use cannabis to treat symptoms like chronic joint and muscle pain. Unfortunately, many of these athletes still don’t have the freedom to use legal cannabis without risking their careers.
In some leagues, using cannabis—despite being a legal substance in their home states or country—can subject athletes to harsh sanctions that eat into their paycheques, or prevent them from playing altogether.
Here’s a look at the current policies for cannabis use in the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MBA.
The NHL is the only league out of the big four that does not punish players who test positive for cannabis use. In fact, cannabis isn’t even considered a banned substance in the NHL anymore. This is good news for hockey players who use the herb medically or even recreationally.
Many former NFL players—like Marvin Washington and Leonard Marshall—are currently advocating for the use of CBD to help players manage and treat the widespread symptoms that arise from receiving regular blows to the head. However, the NFL still has a strict policy against cannabis use.
Players who have never tested positive for drugs in the past are administered one drug test per year in the off-season. On-season drug tests, however, are much more frequent. Every week of the on-season, the league randomly selects ten players from each team to be drug tested. In other words, drug-tests are virtually unavoidable as an NFL player.
Players who test positive for cannabis use must enter into a substance abuse program. If they’re caught with a positive test more than once, the sanctions get progressively harsher. These penalties begin with hefty fines (withholding game checks) and end with multiple game suspensions and, ultimately, a year-long ban if they test positive for cannabis use six times in their career.
During the off-season, the NBA does not issue any drug tests, meaning players are more-or-less free to do what they like in terms of cannabis use. During the on-season, however, players are forced to take a total of four drug tests at random times.
Players who test positive for cannabis use the first time must enter a substance abuse program. The second time players are caught, they must pay a $25,000 fine. After that, players receive a five-game suspension every time they’re caught with cannabis metabolites in their system.
The MBA currently prohibits players from using cannabis. However, unlike other leagues, the MBA only drug tests players if they give “reasonable cause.” If players are caught with cannabis in their system, they can reportedly be subject to fines of up to $35,000.
While there’s no reliable data on how many professional athletes use cannabis, it’s clear that cannabis is extremely popular in the larger athletic community.
One 2019 paper out of the University of Colorado Boulder found that eight out of ten users consume cannabis directly before or after a workout as part of their exercise routine, in states where adult-use legal.
Despite widespread use, anti-cannabis policies continue to affect athletes of all stripes—from the professional level down to high school players with professional ambitions. In one case, a promising high school football player, CJ Harris, was on his way to playing for the Auburn University football team, when he was suddenly rejected for using cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy.
Many professional athletes have also seen their careers jeopardized by penalties for medical and recreational cannabis use. Even topical cannabis creams can pose problems for athletes. Last fall, for example, American athlete Lauren Goss was banned from competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships for using a topical CBD cream—which contained trace amounts of THC—to treat her foot pain.
Many athletes like Goss see cannabis products as a much safer alternative to opioid pain medications, which often lead to addiction and abuse. As one recently published meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association found, cannabis and cannabinoids, administered in specific ways, could, in fact, reduce different types of pain.
Photo by Hipcravo on Unsplash
It’s unclear whether athletes will eventually be permitted to use cannabis without facing penalties in their respective leagues. However, the rules are slowly beginning to change. The NFL and NFL Players Association, for their part, recently agreed to study cannabis’ potential use as a pain management medication for players.
While the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) currently identify cannabis and most cannabinoids as prohibited substances that are forbidden for use in competition, these agencies have recently moved to permit the use of CBD, so long as it contains less than 0.3 percent THC.
According to the USADA, drug tests that find less than 150ng/ml of THC in an athlete’s urine will not be considered positive for cannabis use. But as the USADA points out, CBD products can be unreliable in terms of their THC contents. One 2017 JAMA study tested several CBD products and found that 21% contained THC.
In some cases, athletes who need to use cannabis on a medical basis can obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to avoid facing penalties.
From collegiate athletes to professional sports players, one of the most common ways to pass a drug test on short notice is by diluting their urine with water. In other words, an hour or so before an athlete is scheduled to give a urine sample, they will drink as much water as humanly possible and hope that they pee out what is essentially pure water.
This method has worked for many athletes of all levels and stripes. But, there are also some major limitations. The biggest issue with this method is water intoxication. Drinking too much water over a short period can dangerously disrupt the levels of electrolytes in bodily fluids, leading to feelings of intoxication. If electrolytes become too unbalanced, drinking too much water can cause illness, unconsciousness, or death.
The second issue is that if you return a urine sample that is too dilute, sometimes the test will be deemed inadmissible, and you will have to return for another drug test in the near future. For this reason, many athletes use the “water chugging” method as a way of delaying their test, buying additional time to flush the cannabis out of their system.
Due to the limitations of this method, athletes are always better off using a professionally made product, such as a synthetic urine formula—designed to closely mimic real urine—or a detox solution that can help cleanse one’s system before a drug test.
If you’re an athlete who’s looking for a reliable product to help you pass a drug test, we suggest reaching for either the Clear Choice Rescue Cleanse formula which can help flush out your system before a test or the Quick Luck Premium Pre-Mixed Synthetic Urine, which is designed to closely mimic real human urine.
The product you should choose will ultimately come down to the level of surveillance around your drug test. If you’re asked to go into a bathroom and privately pee into a cup, then your safest bet would be using a synthetic urine solution to fill your urine sample cup. If this isn’t a possibility for you, we recommend pairing the “water chug” method with a reliable detox solution—just don’t drink more than your recommended daily dose of either.
The best synthetic urine solution on the market today is the Clear Choice Quick Luck. With 16 years of experience creating products to help athletes pass their drug tests, Clear Choice is a time-tested product that athletes can trust.
Clear Choice’s proprietary synthetic urine formula is made from 11 different chemical compounds designed to mimic human urine. It’s also pH balanced and even comes with a heat activator formula that heats the synthetic solution to the average temperature of human urine. This biocide-free product works like a charm for all drug-tests and is scientifically developed so that the only thing you need to worry about is getting the product into the drug-testing facility.
If you know it will be impossible to sneak a synthetic urine solution into your drug testing facility, your most reliable option will be using a cleanse solution that can help flush toxins from your body before a test. The best cleanse formula on the market today is Clear Choice’s 32 oz Rescue Cleanse detox formula.
For an effective cleanse, it’s recommended that you avoid using cannabis for at least 48 hours before your drug test (the longer you can abstain, the better). For the best results, do not eat or drink anything for the four hours leading up to the consumption of this product. Drink the entire bottle all at once, at a steady pace, then give the product an hour to work through your system. For this hour, you should be urinating as frequently as possible.
Do not eat or drink anything other than water for the hour after consuming this product. After an hour goes by, your body will be in the “clear zone” for the following five hours. It’s important to time your drug-test so that it falls within these five hours.