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News, Research

What Will The Cannabis Reschedule Mean For Sports Medicine?

Kymberly Drapcho

by Kymberly Drapcho

May 23, 2024 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
What Will The Cannabis Reschedule Mean For Sports Medicine?

With NBA Playoffs season in full swing, players like Anthony Edwards and Nikola Jokić are at the forefront of public conversation. But while Jokić may have had a strain named after him last season, the question of whether these players can use cannabis remains a little gray.

Historically, the NBA has had strict policies against the use of cannabis, similar to other major professional sports leagues. However, in recent times, attitudes have been shifting, and policies regarding cannabis use, both within the NBA and in society at large, have greatly evolved.

With the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Biden Administration recently agreeing to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug, it seems that this evolution will only continue.

On May 16, 2024, the Biden Administration announced their formal support for cannabis rescheduling. This announcement came after the Drug Enforcement Administration similarly announced its support for reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I substance to a Schedule III drug. Under Schedule I status, it’s considered to have no medical benefits and to be a more dangerous drug than fentanyl or methamphetamines–claims that research has regularly been disproving over the last few decades.

Under a Schedule III classification, cannabis would be seen as a substance with medical benefits and uses. As such, the reclassification has the potential to not only reduce the stigma against cannabis but also better our understanding of marijuana’s medical and therapeutic potential.

The reclassification will surely open the door for more comprehensive medical cannabis research, which may not only impact sports medicine but could change the landscape of cannabis use in professional sports.

Can Professional Athletes Smoke Weed?

Quite simply, professional athletes’ ability to smoke weed depends on which sport they play and the governing bodies overseeing those sports. As such, regulations across the major professional sports organizations differ slightly.

Here are the regulations for some of the major sports organizations in the United States.

  • NFL: As of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, the NFL no longer suspends players for positive cannabis tests, but they are subject to fines and treatment programs.
  • NBA: The NBA has temporarily suspended random cannabis testing and focuses on testing for performance-enhancing drugs and drugs of abuse. As of 2023, the league no longer punishes players for cannabis use off the clock.
  • MLB: MLB removed cannabis from its list of banned substances in 2019, but players cannot appear under the influence during games or other team activities. Athletes will still be punished if they are high at games, practices, and other team functions. However, MLB players are no longer subject to professional scrutiny for using cannabis products.
  • NHL: The NHL does not list cannabis as a banned substance, but players who test positive are referred to a behavioral health program.
  • UFC: The UFC has officially removed cannabis from their banned substances list as of December 2023.

While each of these organizations’ policies differ slightly, they are similarly progressive in the way that each has begun to acknowledge the medical benefits of cannabis. With cannabis rescheduling on the very near horizon, cannabis consumption restrictions could look entirely different in a couple of months.

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What Will The Cannabis Reschedule Mean For Sports Medicine?

As the cannabis classification shifts, we expect to see better acceptance of medical cannabis use in several realms, from workers’ rights and legal protection to sports medicine.

Specifically, with the acceptance of cannabis as a viable drug with medical and therapeutic potential, researchers can better conduct more comprehensive studies that will get into the nitty-gritty of medical cannabis use.

Here are a few potential impacts of cannabis rescheduling on professional sports.

1. Better Understanding of Pain Management & Injury Recovery

Cannabis — and CBD especially — has tremendous potential in managing pain, inflammation, and muscle soreness. If cannabis were to be rescheduled and more widely accepted within sports medicine, it could provide athletes with an alternative to traditional pain management medications, such as opioids, which carry a risk of addiction and other adverse effects.

Additionally, some research suggests that the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis could aid in recovering athletes dealing with injuries. By potentially reducing inflammation and promoting healing, cannabis-based treatments could become part of rehabilitation protocols for injured athletes.

2. Neuroprotective Effects & Mental Health Support:

There is ongoing research into the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids and CBD in particular, specifically in the context of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which are concerns in contact sports like football. If cannabis were rescheduled and its neuroprotective effects were further validated, it could become a focal point in concussion management and prevention strategies in sports.

Moreover, athletes face significant pressure and stress, which can impact their mental well-being. Some cannabinoids, such as CBD, have been investigated for their potential anxiolytic and antidepressant effects. Rescheduling cannabis could lead to more research into its use as a complementary therapy for managing stress, anxiety, and mood disorders among athletes.

3. Changes in Regulation

Rescheduling cannabis would likely prompt sports organizations to review and potentially revise their policies regarding its use by athletes. This would involve establishing guidelines for when and how cannabis-based treatments could be used, as well as addressing issues related to doping and performance enhancement.

Final Takeaways

The shifting landscape of cannabis regulation — and in particular, the recent move to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III drug —  signifies a growing acceptance of its medical benefits. This evolution is mirrored in the changing policies of major sports leagues across America, which are increasingly recognizing the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

As research into cannabis’s medical applications expands, especially in areas like pain management, injury recovery, and mental health support, we can expect further adjustments in how professional sports organizations regulate its use. Reclassifying cannabis may not only open the door to bettering the health and well-being of athletes but could also fundamentally change sports medicine as we know it.

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