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The NFL Wants CBD for Pain Treatment

NFL CBD pain
Written by Sarah Friedman

When looking at the effects of cannabis on pain, the athletic community is often a great place to gain a lot of useful and relevant information, since professional athletes, particularly in sports like football, are known for their extreme injuries. Recently, the NFL has showed a growing interest in CBD for pain treatment.

It’s great that NFL players can use CBD for their pain, and that the NFL is further studying cannabis for this purpose. Lucky for you, there is already plenty of research on the positive benefits of cannabis, whether you’re an athlete or not. And one product that might be good for both groups is delta-8 THC. This alternate form of THC is great for anxiety, and doesn’t couchlock a person, while keeping their head clear – all great attributes for athletes, or really, anyone else. We’ve got a great selection of Delta-8 THC products, so give our catalogue a look-thru, and find the products perfect for you.

NFL wants CBD for pain treatment of athletes

For years, the idea of cannabis used for athletes was a sharp no-no in the NFL, with players being suspended if they tested positive more than once for marijuana. That began changing a couple years ago. Back in 2019, it was reported that the NFL had agreed to be a part of two committees meant for investigating CBD for use with athletes. At the time, the NFL’s chief medical officer, Allen Sills, stated “I think it’s a proud day for the NFL and the NFLPA to come together on these issues in a very public way”. Part of the reason for this turnaround, was because of the problems athletes were having using opioids to deal with their extreme pain issues.

The logic of the situation was made clear by former Baltimore Ravens player Eugene Monroe, who stated in 2017 in an interview for Rolling Stone, “We don’t see the NFL trying to control players’ alcohol consumption or tobacco consumption. In fact, the NFL advertises those things. Cannabis is less damaging, less dangerous, less addictive than both of those. However, we see those being celebrated. The NFL is even expanding its hard liquor advertisement.”

Now, two years later, things have slowly moved forward. On June 8th, 2021, it was reported that the NFL and NFLPA (player’s association), are offering a combined $1 million for researchers who can help with the research and development of cannabis alternatives to opioid treatments. Dr. Allen Sills made an appearance again on the topic, saying, “Players are always looking to find treatments that are going to improve their quality of life… But at the same time, players are significantly concerned about the impact on performance.”

CBD for pain

The two questions looking to be researched, are the two basic questions in this arena: is it safe, and does it work? The current goal for the NFL, is to issue 1-5 grants in December, to whichever researchers win the bid, totaling the $1 million offered. None of this changes the NFL’s current policy on cannabis, but the policy itself has been modified recently to be easier on players.

In the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2020, it was decided that players will no longer be suspended for marijuana use (testing positive), and testing can only be administered during a two week window each year during training camp, which is a major reduction from the four-month testing period from before. A new threshold was also put in place for positive tests, requiring 150 nanograms of THC, up from 35. Plus, those that do test positive, go in front of a medical board for review, which decides if the player needs treatment. This board is approved by both the league and the players. The new goal is to provide help, rather than punishment.

It should be noted, that since the testing is relevant to THC, and since punishments have been removed, this has now allowed NFL athletes to enjoy the benefits of CBD on their own. I expect the reason for this is that CBD has been globally rescheduled to be legal for medical purposes by the UN, which would make it difficult for the NFL (and the US in general) to continue disallowing it. The World Anti-Doping Agency, has also concluded that CBD is not prohibited, likely for the same reason.

Cannabis and athletics in general

In order to understand why the NFL might be looking to the cannabis plant – and specifically CBD – to help its players with their pain management issues, let’s take a quick look at how cannabis and athletics go together. Research into cannabis use with sports is still in its infancy. Most research in the past was done on terminal populations, or to shine a light on any negative attributes, with way less funding for topics like how cannabis effects athletes. However, we still know a lot, and as the world changes, more research on this particular topic has come out.

Here are some things we already know about cannabis, as it pertains to athletics. We know there’s a lot of evidence that it can be used for at least some kinds of pain management. This is one of the more studied attributes of the plant right now, which is partly because it offers a fantastic alternative to opiates which have been causing massive issues with addictions and overdoses in the US, and worldwide. We know it’s a good remedy for muscle spasms because one of the pre-eminent uses is for spastic disorders like epilepsy.

We know that depending on the specific products (not all cannabis is included here) it has been shown to help with mental acuity. We also know it can help with sleep, which is highly important when constantly stressing out the body. Last, but certainly not least, we know cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties, which is incredibly useful for athletes who are pulling muscles, putting a lot of pressure on joints, and generally putting their bodies under huge amounts of stress.

cannabis with athletics

Apart from how it can physically help with injuries, cannabis has been shown in studies to help mentally, by improving exercise experiences. Those who smoke regularly consistently show more motivation to exercise, more enjoyment of the exercise, and more satisfaction afterwards. Furthermore, research also shows a lack of general detriment associated with cannabis use and athletic performance.

In fact, studies like this systematic review – Chronic cannabis consumption and physical exercise performance in healthy adults: a systematic review, have shown no difference between heavy cannabis users, and non-users, on measurements like peak workout ability, cardiorespiratory fitness, strength and endurance, resting heartrate, pulmonary measures, blood pressure, and perceived exertion. (Resting heartrate was the only measure where there might have been an inconsistency, though even this inconsistency, was inconsistent among studies).

Is cannabis legal to use in athletic competitions?

This is a good question, because even if a drug has been found to be useful, it doesn’t actually mean it’s legal to use, and the world of sporting and sporting events has its own rules for drug use. On this topic, the first thing to know about cannabis, is that as of 2004 it’s been on the prohibited substances for sports competitions list, by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which itself was instituted in 1999.

WADA’s job is to regulate and police what substances are allowed in official sports competitions, and which are not. In order to do this, WADA came up with the World Anti-Doping Code, which lists three criteria that can get a drug banned from use in competitive sports, although how much relevance they provide is very much debatable. Banned drugs, are drugs that:

  • Enhance performance
  • Pose a risk to athlete health
  • Violate the spirit of sport

If you’re like me, and wondering what the ‘spirit of sport’ could possibly mean, well, here’s the definition: “The spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind, and is reflected in values we find in and through sport, including Ethics, fairplay and honesty; health; excellence in performance; character and education; fun and joy; teamwork; dedication and commitment; respect for rules and laws; respect for self and other Participants; courage; community and solidarity.”

Let’s break this down. In terms of the first bullet point, while cannabis has shown to increase motivation and enjoyment of exercise, it has specifically been cited as not being a performance enhancer, and really, no one ever indicated it was, at least not that I’ve ever seen. I, myself, am an athlete, and never have I ever experienced cannabis to increase my own performance. It’s also hard to imagine that simply helping with mental acuity on a non-superhero level, would constitute performance-enhancing either.

cannabis over opiates

In terms of the second bullet point, vaping and edibles were not big in 2004 when cannabis was ruled out, making smoking it the primary method of ingestion (which it still is). Smoking anything is bad, and we know this, so yeah, if that was the only means of ingestion, the argument could be made, but it would still be a paltry one considering studies on performance did deal with athletes lighting up, and there still wasn’t a negative in comparison to non-smoker performance.

Since vaping so incredibly lowers the number of smoking injuries and deaths (like by such massive margins its silly to argue over), once lighting up is taken out of the mix, there isn’t much out there to imply, or outright state, that cannabis is negative for health. If anything, its health benefits are spoken about more and more, with often very little negative mentioned, especially when looking at the fact that no one has ever died from cannabis. Add onto that, that vaping injuries were related to additives, and not the actual plant material, and there’s very little to say that cannabis poses risks to health.

In terms of the third bullet point, sounds like the kind of BS used to make a blanket statement to fit whatever cause is relevant, in this case, banning cannabis. The ‘respect for rules and laws’ part does have some value, I suppose, since using an illegal substance does constitute breaking the law, but so does not paying a parking ticket, and I’d wager a bet that there are plenty of professional athletes with unpaid tickets. Which means, how exactly cannabis ever made the cut here, is truly a mystery.


It’s a slow process no doubt. Two years ago the NFL started talking about an interest in CBD for pain management, and now two whole years later, the farthest it got was a decision to research it. Regardless, the NFL does now technically allow CBD for use with pain, or other issues among athletes. And with money going into research, its quite possible the NFL might be very useful in spearheading the production of better overall cannabis pain medications for everyone, not just athletes.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.