Can players in the NFL use cannabis? The answer is not as clear-cut as you may think. The league still officially bans the use of cannabis. However, the implementation of testing policies around cannabis in the NFL has evolved over time, and the actual behavior of NFL players has been the subject of controversy.
Current Testing Policies
In order to secure and maintain employment with the NFL, players must pass mandatory drug testing. According to the NFLPA, the union that represents NFL players, the drug testing that occurs between April 20th and August 9 does not include THC. During game season, however, players are tested once a year, and this test does include THC.
Cannabis in the NFL: A Changing History
The NFL’s policies regarding the use of cannabis have changed over time and continue to do so. After the 2021 season, the testing protocols were relaxed in that testing for cannabis was decreased to once a year at the beginning of training camp. Additionally, administrators increased the threshold for a positive test from 35 nanograms of THC to 150 nanograms.
Similarly, the consequences for positive testing have also relaxed. While players used to be fully suspended for a positive test, they are now fined, having to pay up to three weeks’ pay.
Other major sports leagues have progressed even further with their policies on cannabis use. In April 2023, the NBA reached an agreement with the players’ union that removed the testing and penalization for cannabis use. This was officially signed into contract in June. The MLB also enacted similar changes even earlier.
This makes the NFL one of the more restrictive major sports associations in regards to its official stance on cannabis use, even with the progress made in recent years.
Travis Kelce and Cannabis in the NFL
While the NFL does not condone the use of cannabis, players have made headlines time and time again by pushing boundaries, both being “caught” by paparazzi and fans and even by speaking outright about their use of the substance.
Travis Kelce, for example, has most recently and notably been in the spotlight for his romance with pop superstar Taylor Swift, but before this, cannabis has also been a noted element in his career and celebrity.
Before Kelce was a household name, he played at Cincinnati, where he was suspended for his entire sophomore year because he failed a marijuana test. Eventually, Kelce joined the Chiefs and began his rise to fame, but even as a professional player, his potential use of cannabis has continued to draw attention.
According to Kelce, he is in the majority of players with his cannabis use. In a June 2023 interview with Vanity Fair, Kelce estimated that 50 to 80% of NFL players use cannabis, asserting, “If you just stop in the middle of July, you’re fine.” Kelce’s statement also reflects the impact of the newer testing policies, estimating that the frequency of cannabis use among players is actually fairly high.
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Positive Impacts of Cannabis
The NFL’s policies regarding the use of cannabis among players are also significant given the ever-increasing research into the use of cannabis as a potential tool in reducing stress and physical ailments. The Canna Research Group, for example, has conducted studies finding positive effects on pain relief through the use of cannabis.
Notably, even the NFL itself has taken an interest in the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis use for its players. It has now donated over 1.5 million dollars to medical researchers investigating the use of cannabinoids in pain management and pain recovery.
Whether the NFL’s investment in such studies and their outcomes may impact their policies remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that the therapeutic effects of cannabis are a potent area of exploration within football, especially given the frequency of player injuries.
The Bottom Line
So, can NFL players use cannabis? Yes and no. Cannabis remains a banned substance by official NFL guidelines. At the same time, some football players speak about their own use of cannabis and the frequency of use among their teammates.
The lessening of testing and penalties for positive tests also shows a mutability in the NFL’s stance on cannabis usage, and it suggests potential for it to follow in the footsteps of the NBA and remove marijuana testing altogether.
Regardless of what direction NFL policies are headed in, it seems that the topic of cannabis usage will remain an ever-changing subject of opinion, both within the sports celebrity world and beyond.
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