CBD paves way for marijuana leniency in NFL

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

CBD paves way for marijuana leniency in NFL

Related tags Cbd Sports nutrition Farm Bill DSHEA

As legal marijuana expansion continues, advocates point out that it is a safer alternative to prescription opioids for athletes to manage their pain. Thanks to a new agreement, NFL players have that option.

Over the weekend NFL players voted to approve a new collective bargaining agreement with the league's owners. The vote, which required a majority, was a close call at 1019-959.

In a tweet, the NFL Players Association announced the deal, saying,"The result comes after a long and democratic process in accordance with our constitution." 

Changes to the drug policy


The deal memo also said"violations of law for marijuana possession generally will not result in suspension."​ In addition to eliminating suspensions for positive marijuana tests, testing period will also be limited  to the first two weeks of training camp and raise the threshold for a positive test from 35 to 150 nanograms of THC. 

This is along the lines of a move by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA), which set a urinary threshold of 150 nanograms per milliliter for THC, substantially more lenient than the previous limit of 15 nanograms per milliliter. 

The CBA also made changes to the policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The first failed test for stimulants or diuretics will result in a two-game suspension. A first failed test for anabolic steroids will result in a six-game suspension. And "manipulation and or substitution and use of a prohibited substance" will cost players an eight games. A second violation for stimulants or diuretics will bring a five-game suspension. A second violation for anabolics will result in a 17-game suspension.

If a player tests positive, their results will be reviewed by a board of jointly appointed medical professionals to determine whether treatment is needed. 

In lieu of suspensions, NFL players will now be fined for failed drug tests, anywhere from half a week’s salary to 3 weeks worth, depending on the number of violations. 

Adulterated supplements 

The new rules may help the athletes who claim to have taken adulterated supplements. Under DSHEA, the products are regulated as food and therefore not subject to premarket safety and effectiveness testing imposed on pharmaceuticals. A 2018 report published in JAMA Network Open​ reported that between 2007 and 2016, the FDA found that 776 dietary supplements​ from 146 companies contained prescription drugs. 

Hemp, CBD paved the way

The signing of the Farm Bill in December 2018 paved the way for industrial hemp to be produced and hemp-derived CBD to be used in a variety of derivative products throughout the United States.

For some, the new set of rules may not come as a surprise. In January, the Pain Management Committee of the NFL and the NFL Players Association held a forum with manufacturers CBD sports supplements and medicine. The session gave medical experts on the committee insight into the scientific research and evidence regarding the use of CBD products, and how their use good benefit athletes. 

"The NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee is a jointly formed committee tasked with providing advice to the league and union regarding recent developments in the area of pain management for elite athletes,"​ the league and the players' union said in a joint statement. "In furtherance of its duties, the Committee has been asked to brief the parties on the current state of pain management and alternative therapies, including cannabis, cannabinoids and CBD. The Committee invited manufacturers of CBD products to share their research today so the Committee may hear and consider the possible scientific evidence base for CBD use as a pain management alternative. This meeting was an educational and scientific exercise and does not impact the jointly administered Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse. We look forward to the continued cooperative work of the Joint Committee."

In the white paper sent to teams' medical staffs, the committee says, "CBD is a promising compound, but the extent of its use in the United States outpaces the level of evidence."​ It adds that small clinical studies have suggested that CBD may be effective for treating neuropathic pain, but it is difficult to know the purity and potency of many products, because they are purchased from unregulated sources. The white paper also says that multiple controlled trails show cannabis and two FDA-approved cannabinoids are effective in treating chronic pain and neuropathic pain, but those trials used small sample sizes and short follow-up periods, raising concerns about what can be extrapolated from the trials.

Last December, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) announced changes to the league's drug policy. MLB and MLBPA agreed to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances in an effort to better align the league with changing policies at the state level. 


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