Everything You Need to Know About CBD and Sports
The chorus of professional athletes using and endorsing cannabidiol (CBD) continues to get louder. Proponents praise it as a safer alternative to addictive opioids, and in the last few years, CBD usage has grown across sports all over the world.
Athletes who are openly using CBD — during and after their careers — may surprise some people. They include Super Bowl, World Series and NBA champions, as well as some of the biggest names in professional golf and mixed martial arts.
Here's what you need to know about CBD and its future in sports.
What Is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol, which is one of the primary extracts from the cannabis plant, more commonly known as marijuana, or cannabis.
CBD, when extracted from the cannabis plant on its own, contains such low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that users don’t get the same mind-altering effects they do when using marijuana. In other words, CBD use by itself does not cause a "high."
What they do get, more and more people are beginning to discover, is a non-addictive way to deal with anxiety, movement disorders and, for pro athletes, debilitating pain that would otherwise be dealt with by using prescription drugs.
CBD comes in different forms, from pain relief creams and rubs to bath oils, gummies and smokable oils.
How Can CBD Help Athletes?
The primary way CBD can help athletes is dealing with pain, with the understanding that it’s a better alternative than the tried-and-true way of doing things. Which is pills.
Rare is the professional athlete who hasn’t had to rely on pills for pain relief in some way. The lucky ones who take ibuprofen by the handful only ruin their intestines. The unlucky ones get hooked on opioids — Vicodin, Lortabs, oxycodone — and their lives are ruined.
The side effects of CBD are dry mouth, fatigue and drowsiness.
Key Moments in CBD History: 1940
Before 1940, tests of marijuana extracts had been done only with cannabis indica, a strain that years later marijuana users nicknamed "In Da Couch" for its potency.
In 1940, scientists at the University of Illinois were the first to test extracts from another strain, cannabis sativa, known for giving users more of an "energetic high."
They pulled out, or extracted, a "red oil" that seemed to be the same as cannabis, but with minuscule traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which creates marijuana’s psychological effect. This extract was CBD.
Key Moments in CBD History: 1963
CBD tests on animals began not long after CBD was discovered in 1940, but little was known about its actual chemical makeup.
In 1963 a pair of Israeli scientists, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Yuval Shvo, were able to identify and document CBD’s chemical structure.
Why was this important? Once the chemical structure was established, CBD could be incorporated into usable items — like the first CBD oil released by British Pharmacopoeia that same year.
Key Moments in CBD History: 2018
CBD started popping up for sale around the country in 2017, but it hit shelves en masse in 2018 thanks to a 1-2 punch of pro-CBD legal landmarks.
First, the World Anti-Doping Agency pulled CBD off its list of banned substances (which led the United States Anti-Doping Agency to do the same), and the Farm Bill was signed into federal legislation, expanding the legalization of hemp cultivation and the status of CBD.
NFL's Stance on CBD
The NFL got a new marijuana policy with its new collective bargaining agreement, which was approved in March 2020. Now, players who test positive for marijuana and its derivatives, including CBD, no longer will be suspended.
The football league is moving away from a punishment model to focus on clinical care and treatment. Annual marijuana testing will be limited to the first two weeks of training camp, and the threshold for positive tests will be 150 nanograms of THC instead of 35.
CBD used to be listed as a banned substance with "marijuana and all of its derivatives." A second positive test resulted in a two-game suspension, a third positive brought a four-game suspension, and fourth netted a 10-game suspension.
There’s still more hope for CBD. In May 2019, the NFL and NFLPA began examining pain management strategies, with a large focus on the use of cannabis and its derivatives — specifically CBD.
NBA’s Stance on CBD
The NBA didn’t even start testing for "marijuana and all of its derivatives," including CBD, until 1999. That’s when former commissioner David Stern noticed, in the first year after Michael Jordan’s second retirement, the quality of play (and TV numbers) had dropped off considerably.
He rightfully deduced it was partly because players were blazed out of their minds on the court. So he turned it into essentially a public shaming with no real consequences.
Players don’t miss games until a third positive test, which results in a five-game suspension. Pee dirty a fourth time, and it's 10 games.
MLB’s Stance on CBD
If you thought the NBA’s stance on CBD and marijuana was lenient, please let us introduce you to Major League Baseball.
When the players signed a new collective bargaining agreement in 2002, MLB used all of its power to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs, and for good reason. That means marijuana and CBD aren’t tested for randomly, and not without cause (say an arrest or social media scandal).
Players also can’t be suspended for a positive test, just sent to treatment and/or fined no more than $35,000.
NHL’s Stance on CBD
The NHL has the most lenient policy on the use of marijuana and CBD of the four major professional sports leagues in North America.
While both marijuana and CBD are on the NHL's banned list, players are still tested for both, but it’s done anonymously and positive results are only used by a committee to determine future testing practices.
It should come as no surprise that the NHL has taken such an approach to these particular "drugs" when it comes to testing — seven of the league's 31 teams are in Canada, where marijuana and CBD are both legal on a national level.
NASCAR’s Stance on CBD
NASCAR didn’t even begin random drug testing until 2009. Before that, testing was only done if a driver did something that gave officials cause for concern that they might be using drugs, like an arrest.
Now, they have one of the strictest drug policies in all of professional sports, with "marijuana and its compounds" listed under the category of "narcotic analgesics" — which lumps CBD in there.
Drivers are required to submit for a drug test in the 90 days before they obtain their NASCAR license, and NASCAR can ask drivers to submit to random drug tests at any time.
Refusal means suspension, with NASCAR officials the sole determiner of suspension length.
PGA Tour’s Stance on CBD
The PGA Tour uses the same drug-testing company as NASCAR — Drug Free Sports — and has a similarly strict policy.
Golfers can be tested randomly, in and out of competition, and marijuana is on its list of banned substances. But CBD is not.
Because of this, a handful of players are open about using CBD or have signed endorsement deals with CBD manufacturers. To this, the PGA has issued a warning: Some CBD items do, in fact, contain trace amounts of THC, and the tour won’t distinguish between CBD and marijuana if a golfer tests positive.
Here’s a look at current and former professional athletes who have been open about their CBD use.
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
Accolades/key stats: Ultimate Fighter 5 champion (2007), UFC lightweight submissions record (8), 21-12 career record
Bottom Line for Nate Diaz
Nate Diaz, one of the most popular fighters in UFC history, caused a CBD-related scandal in 2016 when he smoked a CBD vape pen just hours after a match — during a news conference.
He drew the ire of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which had CBD on its list of banned items, but didn’t receive a sanction from USADA because it wasn’t a performance-enhancing drug.
CBD was taken off USADA’s list of banned substances shortly thereafter.
Sport: Football (NFL)
Teams: New England Patriots (2010-18)
Accolades/key stats: Super Bowl champion (2014, 2017, 2018), NFL All-Pro (2011, 2014, 2015, 2017), NFL Comeback Player of the year (2014)
Bottom Line for Rob Gronkowski
Future NFL Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski put a very famous face behind CBD use when he agreed to an endorsement deal with CBD manufacturer Abacus CBD Health Products. Gronk could end up being the athlete that pulls CBD into the mainstream.
In 2019, Abacus entered a partnership with Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s investment group, Gillette Stadium and Patriots Place. On March 23, 2020, the Toronto-based Abacus was acquired by Charlotte's Web, a CBD company in Colorado, which will help maximize growth.
Who put Gronk onto CBD? His dad, who used it for his bad back.
Sport: Football (NFL)
Teams: Tennessee Titans (2010-2018)
Accolades/key stats: NFL draft No. 16 overall pick (2010), 44.5 career sacks, AP All-American (2009) at Georgia Tech
Bottom Line for Derrick Morgan
Linebacker Derrick Morgan’s body was riddled with injuries over the course of nine seasons in the NFL, and in 2016, he became just the second active NFL player in history to advocate for CBD following Baltimore’s Eugene Monroe.
Morgan, who retired after the 2018 season, has kept his voice active in support of CBD and believes more research on CBD could conclusively prove its effects are much safer than prescription opioids when it comes to treating pain.
Sport: Football (NFL)
Teams: Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-13), Baltimore Ravens (2013-15)
Accolades/key stats: NFL draft No. 8 overall pick (2009), started 90 of 93 career games
Bottom Line for Eugene Monroe
The No. 1 offensive line recruit in the nation out of Plainfield (New Jersey) High in 2005 and the youngest of 16 children, Eugene Monroe became the first active NFL player to challenge the league’s policy on cannabis and CBD.
He did more than that, though, putting his money where his mouth is, and personally funded groundbreaking CBD research via The Bright Lights campaign.
He abruptly ended his career in 2015, citing concerns over repeated head trauma.
Sport: Golf (PGA Tour)
Accolades/key stats: Masters Tournament champion (2012, 2014), PGA Championship runner-up (2010), $44.8 million career earnings
Bottom Line for Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champion, crafted his golf career as a rebel and became one of the sport’s biggest superstars.
So it came as a surprise to no one when he signed an endorsement deal with a CBD manufacturer, cbdMD, after the PGA Tour warned its players about CBD use.
Watson has openly spoken about his CBD use and, along with Rob Gronkowski, is probably the most recognizable athlete to get behind CBD.
Sport: Hockey (NHL)
Teams: New York Rangers (1996-98), Chicago Blackhawks (1999-2004), Pittsburgh Penguins (2005-06)
Accolades/key stats: NHL draft No. 173 overall (1992), Canadian Forces Battalion for Distinguished Service (2017)
Bottom Line for Ryan VandeBussche
Ryan VandeBussche played in 310 career NHL games but only scored 10 goals as his main role was as an enforcer — he infamously ended Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nick Kypreos’ career with an overhand left to his chin in a 1997 preseason game.
VandenBussche suffered over 20 concussions and had 12 surgeries in his 10-year NHL career and has openly credited CBD with helping him deal with the associated pain and injuries stemming from that.
Sport: Hockey (NHL)
Teams: Philadelphia Flyers (2007-2010)
Accolades/key tats: Philadelphia Flyers Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Award (2008), AHL Calder Cup (2005), SPHL President’s Cup (2003)
Bottom Line for Riley Cote
Riley Cote carved out a career as an NHL enforcer, just like fellow CBD advocate Ryan VandenBussche.
Cote’s experience with CBD is an interesting case study as he was a heavy cannabis user during his playing career.
After his NHL career was over, he sought out CBD as a non-intoxicating way to deal with the lingering pain from his playing days and became convinced of its positive effects.
He’s been a vocal CBD advocate ever since.
Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
Accolades/key stats: UFC light heavyweight champion (2007), Pride middleweight champion (2007), Bellator Season 10 light heavyweight tournament champion (2014)
Bottom Line for Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson
One of the most well-known MMA stars of all-time, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson’s fame grew so large in the late 2000s and early 2010s that he was able to carve out a respectable side career in TV and movies.
How big was he at one point? He starred alongside Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper in not one, but two movies — "Midnight Meat Train" (2008) and "The A-Team" (2010).
He has publicly praised fellow MMA fighter Nate Diaz several times for bringing CBD into the mainstream for MMA fighters.
Sport: Basketball (NBA)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (1988-89), Cleveland Cavaliers (1989-92), Orlando Magic (1992-93), Chicago Bulls (1993-99), San Antonio Spurs (1999-2001, 2002-03), Portland Trail Blazers (2001-02)
Stats: NBA champion as a player (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003) and coach (2015, 2017, 2018), NBA 3-Point Shootout champion (1997), NBA Coach of the Year (2016)
Bottom Line for Steve Kerr
Steve Kerr has won a combined eight NBA titles as a player and coach, and hit the game-winning shot for the Chicago Bulls in the 1997 NBA Finals.
Kerr underwent major lower back surgery in 2015, but mistakes in the operation led to fluid leaks in his spine that caused a tremendous amount of pain.
Kerr turned to CBD and medical cannabis to deal with headaches, vomiting and nausea, and he has openly stated he prefers them to addictive opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin.
Teams: Denver Broncos (1995-2001)
Accolades/key stats: Super Bowl champion (1997, 1998), NFL Most Valuable Player (1998), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1996, 1998)
Bottom Line for Terrell Davis
Terrell Davis led the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles, and in 1998, the Hall of Fame running back became one of just a handful of players to rush for 2,000 yards in the regular season.
His pain threshold was one for the ages, fighting off debilitating migraines and undergoing two major knee surgeries over his final three seasons.
He’s gone on the record as saying he thinks CBD would have extended his relatively short career because of its healing properties.
Davis has his own line of CBD products called Defy.
Amy Van Dyken
Accolades/key stats: Six-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000), three-time world champion (1998), International Swimming Hall of Fame (2007)
Bottom Line for Amy Van Dyken
Amy Van Dyken is one of the most decorated Olympians in U.S. history, and all six medals she won were gold, including four at the 1996 Summer Olympics, when she became the first female Olympian to win four golds in one games.
The Colorado native was paralyzed from the waist down after a tragic ATV accident in 2014, and she has advocated for specifically hemp-based CBD as a crucial way she deals with neuropathic pain during her recovery.
Teams: Llanelli RFC (2006-11), LLandovery RFC (2011), Scarlets (2006-12), Bath (2012-16), Wales National Team (2015-present), Toyota Verblitz (2016-17), Melbourne Rebels (2017), Saracens (2017-present)
Accolades/key stats: Six Nations Championship (2017), European Rugby Championships (2008, 2012), Rugby World Cup (2015)
Bottom Line for Dom Day
There’s not a lot of rugby players who end up gaining international recognition, but Dominic Day is one of them.
He’s in the 14th year of his pro career, married to an Irish supermodel and the biggest buzz about Day in recent years has been his CBD business as the founder of fourfivecbd.
Day plays one of the more brutal sports in the world, and his belief in CBD’s healing abilities helped nudge the World Anti-Doping Agency toward taking CBD off its list of banned substances in 2018.
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1981-84), Indianapolis Colts (1985-87), Detroit Lions (1988), Miami Dolphins (1989), Seattle Seahawks (1990)
Accolades/key stats: NFL draft No. 143 overall pick (1981),130 NFL career games, University of Wisconsin team MVP (1980)
Bottom Line for David Ahrens
David Ahrens gutted out a 10-year NFL career with more than a little help, by his own admission, from Tylenol-Codeine No. 3 (which is as bad as it sounds).
Doctors handed it out like candy, and players washed it down with cold brews on team planes for almost a decade before anyone realized dudes were getting addicted.
Ahrens' argument for CBD has always been the same: If it’s so bad, where are the adverse side effects?
Accolades/key stats: U.S. Open champion (2009), Walker Cup (2001), NCAA All-American (1999-2001)
Bottom Line for Lucas Glover
Lucas Glover shot to fame by winning the U.S. Open in 2009, becoming the first South Carolina native and Clemson product win a PGA Tour event.
He’s probably the second-biggest name to endorse CBD in the PGA outside of Bubba Watson, and has the results to back it up when he says he’s benefited greatly from it.
Glover began using CBD in 2019 and had his best season since winning the U.S. Open, crediting CBD oils for lessening his severe nerve pain and lowering his anxiety.
Teams: New York Giants (1983-92), New York Jets (1993), Washington Redskins (1994)
Accolades/key stats: Super Bowl champion (1986, 1990), NFL All-Pro (1985, 1986), Pro Bowl (1985, 1986)
Bottom Line for Leonard Marshall
Leonard Marshall was named the NFL Defensive Lineman of the Year twice, in 1985 and 1986.
Even though he won two Super Bowls, he’s probably still most well-known for the hit he laid on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana in the 1991 NFC championship game that sidelined Montana for almost two full seasons.
Marshall is unique in that he backs CBD almost specifically for treating what he says is a severe case of CTE.
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
Accolades/key stats: Prize FC middleweight champion (2014, 2015), The Ultimate Fighter (2010), UFC Performance of the Night (2016)
Bottom Line for Chris Camozzi
California MMA fighter and kickboxer Chris Camozzi was a rugby star in high school and college before focusing his attention on a fighting career.
Through three different stints in UFC, his body has taken the kind of extreme beating you might assume comes with 42 professional fights, including breaking his jaw on Spike TV’s "The Ultimate Fighter."
Camozzi used CBD oils for the first time to help with a nagging MCL injury, found his body healing and has been a constant user ever since.
Sport: Grappling/submission wrestling
Accolades/key stats: ADCC world champion (2017, 2019), Nogi world champion (2018), Nogi Pan American champion (2018)
Bottom Line for Gordon Ryan
Bottom line: New Jersey native Gordon Ryan began training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at 15 years old and won his first world championship in grappling when he was just 22.
He sustained two major injuries in 2019, tearing his LCL during a match, then mangling his hand in a motorcycle mishap shortly after that.
Ryan, like a lot of other fighters, has said his primary use of CBD is to help him recover from injuries and deal with pain in a natural way instead of opioids.
Teams: Toronto Blue Jays (1987-92, 1999-2000), Detroit Tigers (1993-95), Cincinnati Reds (1995), Baltimore Orioles (1996), New York Yankees (1997-98, 2002-03), Chicago White Sox (2001), San Diego Padres (2004, 2006-07), Boston Red Sox (2005-06), Los Angeles Dodgers (2007)
Accolades/key stats: World Series champion (1992, 1998),MLB All-Star (1992, 1998, 2000), ALCS Most Valuable Player (1998)
Bottom Line for David Wells
David Wells was one of the best left-handed pitchers of his generation, and in 1998, while pitching for the New York Yankees, he became just the 15th player in MLB history to throw a perfect game. In his autobiography, Wells claimed he’d had a "head-splitting hangover" when he threw his perfect game.
Since his career ended, he’s become a vocal supporter of CBD, praising its ability to decrease the pain in his elbow and shoulder from seven surgeries in 21 MLB seasons.
Accolades/key stats: NCAA champion (1998), Presidents Cup (2017), four-time PGA Tour winner
Bottom Line for Charley Hoffman
Charley Hoffman paired with Jason Day to win an NCAA championship at UNLV in 1998 and carved out an 18-year career on the Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour.
Even though he never won a major, Hoffman banked $28.2 million in career earnings. Hoffman has never said openly exactly what he uses CBD to treat, but he has said he uses it daily and uses the coffee emoji whenever he does paid ads for CBD.
So we can assume he’s downing that supercharged Sanka.
Accolades/key stats: Olympic silver medal (2014), X-Games silver medal (2014), Canadian Open champion (2015)
Bottom Line for Devin Logan
It’s impossible to doubt Devin Logan’s toughness. She bounced back from a torn ACL, MCL and two microfractures in her knee in 2012 to win a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in slopestyle.
That wasn’t her only major skiing injury, either, after dislocating her shoulder in 2016.
In March 2019, Logan became a cautionary tale for CBD users when she received a three-month suspension for testing positive for THC, which she said was unintentional and came from frequent CBD use.
Teams: Arizona Cardinals (1997-2002), Denver Broncos (2003-06)
Accolades/key stats: Heisman Trophy finalist (1996) at Arizona State, Pro Bowl (2005), Idaho State Singles Handball runner-up (2008)
Bottom Line for Jake Plummer
There’s probably not an NFL or college football fan in the last 25 years who couldn’t tell you song and verse about gunslinging quarterback Jake Plummer’s career.
He grabbed our attention to begin with when he led Arizona State to within seconds of a national title. Then, he turned his back on big NFL money after 10 roller-coaster seasons because of concerns about his long-term health.
Plummer puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to CBD. He’s helped raise money alongside Eugene Monroe and Nate Jackson for $100,000 in CBD research grants.
Sport: Mixed Martial Arts
Accolades/key stats: AFC bantamweight champion (2016), The Ultimate Fighter (2013)
Bottom Line for Gina Mazany
Gina Mazany isn’t just a fighter, as she's earned a degree from the Seattle Art Institute.
But when she does fight, she’s pretty good and has amassed a 6-3 UFC record over the last two years after earning regional acclaim fighting in her native Alaska.
Like former NFL star Leonard Marshall, Mazany has taken the side of CBD usage on the basis that it helps with her concussions and trauma to her brain and head.
Career: 1989-1996, 2002-2004
Teams: Detroit Lions (1989-93), Dallas Cowboys (1994), Philadelphia Eagles (1995-98), Washington Redskins (1999), Oakland Raiders (2000-01), Carolina Panthers (2002-04)
Accolades/key stats: Heisman Trophy runner-up (1988), AP All-American (1988) at USC, NFL draft No. 141 overall pick (1988)
Bottom Line for Rodney Peete
Rodney Peete was a two-sport star for USC in baseball and football. He was All Pac-10 in both sports and picked three times in the MLB draft.
He opted for a career in the NFL, where he spent 16 seasons primarily as a backup. When Peete had to have knee replacement surgery after his career was over, his wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete ('21 Jump Street"), brought him CBD to help in his recovery.
He’s been advocating for it ever since.
Teams: Detroit Pistons (1986-92), Miami Heat (1992-95), Toronto Raptors (1995-96), Chicago Bulls (1996), Los Angeles Lakers (1999-2000)
Accolades/key stats: NBA champion (1989, 1990, 1996, 2000), NBA draft No. 11 overall pick (1986)
Bottom Line for John Salley
Longtime NBA big man John Salley was the first player to win NBA titles with three different teams. He won four with the Pistons, Bulls and Lakers — and in three different decades.
Salley was a great role player on a lot of teams, as evidenced by his career averages of 7.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
But over a decade in the NBA destroyed Salley’s back, to the point he was having trouble sleeping. He credits CBD for turning that around.
What's Next for CBD
With the NFL leading the way in research efforts and CBD removed from the banned substances list for both the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and World Anti-Doping Agency, CBD is on a path to becoming mainstream in all professional sports.
As the laws for cannabis change around the nation, new laws and standards for CBD will go hand to hand.