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Balancing Legalized Marijuana & Sports

By Cam Harris, Contributor

As an increasing number of states legalize marijuana, how does this effect teams and players within the sports industry?

With a greater number of US states legalizing marijuana, dozens of professional sports teams now live and operate in jurisdictions where recreational marijuana use is legal. Why is the drug an issue in sports? Some would argue marijuana can make it difficult to focus and reduces coordination, it would hinder athletes’ performance. However, not every marijuana user experiences those effects to the same degree and marijuana has been proven to reduce anxiety, which can be useful in high-pressure environments. Rather than using marijuana to boost performance during an event, though, many athletes claim it for recovery.

How Marijuana Speeds Recovery

To compete in any sport at the highest levels, athletes need to push their bodies extremely hard. Injuries – minor ones, at the very least – are almost inevitable. Marijuana is a powerful anti-inflammatory, which means it can help with common injuries like over-strained muscles and sprained ankles. It also reduces the duration of post-workout muscle soreness, which could help athletes spend more time training productively and less time recovering.

For athletes who need to maintain a certain calorie intake but struggle to eat enough, marijuana can help by stimulating their appetites. Athletes may also use marijuana for better sleep. Interestingly, studies have shown that male athletes are more likely to use the drug than female athletes, and there is a strong positive correlation between number of training hours and frequency of marijuana use.

It’s also important to note that a majority of marijuana use among athletes may be completely unrelated to their performance. One study found that recreational use was eight times more prevalent among athletes than use for performance-enhancing purposes.

Which Sports Allow Marijuana Use?

Just because marijuana is legal in an athlete’s state or province doesn’t mean they can use the drug without repercussions. Beyond actual laws, sport bodies also have their own rules that govern athletes’ behavior. The World Anti-Doping Agency currently includes marijuana on its Prohibited List, as it considers marijuana to be a performance-enhancing drug. Specific sports’ rules are:

· NFL: The new CBA eliminates suspensions for positive marijuana tests. The testing period has been limited to the first two weeks of training camp, and the threshold for a positive test has been raised from 35 to 150 nanograms of THC.

· NHL: Testing positive for marijuana during one of the random drug tests is not grounds for fines or suspensions.

· NBA: The NBA has recently announced they will no longer be testing for marijuana.

· MLB: in Major League Baseball, drug tests are only conducted if there is probably cause. For this reason, players almost never incur penalties for marijuana use, and use is probably much more common than is reported.

Based on the increasingly relaxed policies held by many of the leagues and the correlation between time spent training and frequency of marijuana use by athletes, it seems like both athletes and regulators are arriving at the same conclusion. That conclusion is the use of THC/marijuana should not be classified as a performance-enhancing drug and legality should ultimately be managed by governments not entertainment leagues.