Should You Take CBD if You’re an Athlete?

CBD and Athletes

From students to professionals, thousands of people around the world are discovering how CBD can help them meet their wellness goals. Derived from the hemp plant, this versatile cannabinoid offers numerous purported benefits, including stress reduction and pain relief.

Although the societal stigma surrounding CBD use has largely dissolved thanks to an influx of factually-founded research, the cannabinoid remains contentious within certain circles — namely, the athletic community. Many athletes are constantly on the lookout for substances that can reduce recovery times and promote wellbeing, but the strict regulations within many competitive fields ultimately determine what they can and can’t use.

So, can athletes use CBD? And if so, what benefits can they expect? Let’s take a look!

Aerial view of runners in a V-formation running on a track

The Athlete’s Guide to CBD Legality

The legality of CBD largely depends on the sport, overseeing league, and active legislation. As such, we’ll be exploring CBD’s legality in a granular, categorical fashion.

Is CBD Legal in the United States?

With the late 2018 revision of the United States Farm Bill, the production and sale of industrial hemp products throughout the USA — including hemp-derived CBD products — is now legal.

CBD is sold and used openly throughout the United States, and you won’t be subject to legal action for purchasing or consuming CBD products.

Instead, the US government is more focused on controlling CBD products and CBD manufacturers — not CBD-using athletes. For instance, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that they will continue to monitor and regulate CBD products that make therapeutic claims.

Is CBD Legal for College Athletes?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is an American organization that regulates and organizes many college sports across the US and Canada. The NCAA is infamous for maintaining a strict no-tolerance stance on cannabis consumption for its athletes, and in the past, has enforced severe penalties for athletes who have tested positive for cannabis use.

Although the NCAA’s 2018-2019 Banned Drugs List doesn’t mention CBD and athletes in the same sentence, it does list tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and “marijuana” as illicit substances. The guidelines also establish that any chemically-related substances to the ones on the list are also banned.

Because CBD is a constituent of cannabis or hemp, it could be assumed that the NCAA considers CBD illicit. However, as of now, the organization’s guidelines leave CBD in a vague and potentially risky grey area, making it difficult for us to recommend CBD to college athletes.

Is CBD Legal for Professional Athletes?

In the professional sports world, the pressures of success and frequency of play place athletes at heightened risks of sustaining particularly devastating physical injuries. High-impact sports like football and hockey can leave players with chronic pain, and even less impact-heavy sports like soccer and baseball carry similar risks.

Thankfully, CBD seems to be effective at reducing the various forms of physical pain and inflammation that can accompany professional sports play. However, as of now, not all professional sports organizations are on board with CBD just yet.

Is CBD Legal for NFL Athletes? CBD and NFL Athletes

Close-up of a football lying in grass

Similar to the NCAA, the National Football League of America also forbids its players from consuming cannabis in any form. NFL players that test positive for cannabis use (currently defined as above 35 ng/ml concentration in urine samples) may face suspension and fines.

However, given the increasing popularity of CBD, some have speculated that CBD will be permissible when the NFL revises their guidelines in 2020.

CBD and NBA Athletes

For National Basketball Association (NBA) players, cannabis has been illegal for use since 1999. However, like many other sports organizations, the NBA’s stance on hemp-derived CBD use isn’t clear. The organization’s guidelines don’t explicitly mention CBD by name, and several NBA members including Mike Bass and David Stern have expressed an interest in authorizing medical marijuana use for players in the past.

For now, though, it appears that the NBA ballers out there might want to stay CBD-free to avoid incurring any undue penalties.

CBD and NHL Athletes

Unlike the other sports organizations on this list, the National Hockey League (NHL) hasn’t prohibited the use of cannabis or CBD. While cannabis use isn’t encouraged, the organization has taken a unique stance on cannabis that doesn’t invoke heavy penalties like suspensions and fines.

Instead, NHL players with elevated levels of cannabinoids are merely required to undergo assessment by an NHL-approved doctor, with recommendations of rehabilitation in some cases.

Is CBD Legal for MLB Athletes? CBD and MLB Athletes

Major League Baseball (MLB) players strike hard and run at breakneck speeds to keep America’s favorite pastime alive. However, the physical demands of Major League Baseball can take a surprisingly heavy toll on player health.

Fortunately, the MLB isn’t strict about players using CBD and cannabis to stay in the game. MLB players don’t undergo drug testing without probable cause, and the threshold for THC testing is 50 ng/ml — nearly double that of the NCAA. If a player does exceed the THC limit, fines may apply, but an outright suspension is rare.

As of this writing, no testing threshold has been established for CBD and MLB athletes.

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