With the boom of CBD in full effect, you or I may think nothing at all of waking up and eating some CBD gummies. CBD has never been more accessible, with consumers being able to find the best CBD oils and the best CBD gummies with just the click of a button, delivered straight to their door, but things are very different for professional and collegiate athletes. Starting their morning with a CBD gummy could cost them everything, costly fines, getting them kicked off the team, or having their scholarship revoked; all very serious consequences for a thing that most of us would see as inconsequential. Why does a league commissioner or association president care what an athlete puts into their body, as long as it grants no competitive advantage? Should a league commissioner or association president be able to tell athletes what they can be able to put into their body, as long as it grants no competitive advantage? Players say no, investors say yes, but eventually compromises will be reached and an agreement will be made, because everyone wants to see the games go on.
The National Basketball Association is one of the largest stages in the world for professional sports players to perform on, with over eight billion dollars in estimated revenue earned just last year alone. This is all thanks in no small part to the players who go out on the court night after night and play to their bodies and spirits’ limits, all to the delight of fans, coaches, and team owners. So, it becomes the responsibility of not only the team organizations themselves, but also the fans as well, to ask themselves if they are doing everything they can to maintain the health and well-being of these players, both while they are on the court and for years afterward.
Typically, many of the agreements between players, team owners, and league officials are agreed upon with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), a formal document that is agreed upon and signed by both sides. While much of the document stays the same from season to season, changes are of course made to keep up with the changing times and protect the most immediate concerns of both sides. Most recently, one of the topics being most discussed between players and the league has been about CBD, THC, and overall, how far the league can restrict players from what they put in their bodies to maintain their health.
Currently, most major league sports organizations still see CBD as a “by-product of marijuana”, and liken CBD to THC, which does cause psychoactive (“mind-altering”, or “high-inducing”) effects. However, this is completely unfair to CBD, which does not cause any psychoactive effects, or for users to feel “high” in any way. It is unfortunate, but the stance of many sports associations around the globe is still very archaic when it comes to health, medicine, drugs, and especially CBD. While the NFL very recently loosened its punishments, testing, and restrictions on marijuana and “marijuana by-products” (CBD), pretty much all other major league associations still outlaw both in all forms, though the way that each deals with infractions to those rules and regulations differs greatly. While Major League Baseball is known to have a more stern fist when it comes to punishments handed out for drug use and drug abuse, the Major League Soccer (MLS, FIFA) and National Hockey League has a reputation for being more amicable and understanding when it comes to these matters. The NHL has famously said that it would not fine or suspend players that tested positive for marijuana, but rather them to a behavioral health clinic, while also stating that they have no specific CBD policy, essentially allowing players and organizations to make their own judgement call when it comes to CBD usage. Many within the National Hockey League hope that CBD, and its ability to treat pain and anxiety, may become a healthy alternative to the frequent use of opiate painkillers by the heavily-battered players. Hopefully, too , the NBA takes notice soon of what the NHL is doing and saying with CBD.
At this time, CBD is still listed as a “banned substance” in the NBA, under language that outlaws all “marijuana and its by-products”, which was agreed upon by both players and league officials under the most recent CBA, signed in December of 2016. The terms of that most recent CBA went into effect January of 2017 and lasts until the end of the 2023-2024 season. Some say another four years is too long to wait to restructure the current CBA, because recent legislature has changed the way that CBD is identified, and the legality of CBD as a whole. Two years ago, when Congress passed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (AKA the Farm Bill), CBD was “de-scheduled” as a Schedule I Drug by the Federal Government, though THC remains a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and LSD, much to the chagrin of American citizens everywhere. When the NFL passed their new CBA just a few weeks ago, in the Winter of 2020, players and owners agreed that testing positive for marijuana and marijuana substances should no longer incur a suspension. They also agreed on a higher limit for the amount of marijuana needed to test positive, as well as less frequent drug testing for players throughout the entire football season. Many people around the NBA, players, team owners, and league members, are hoping that a similar change is coming for them, as well.
Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has yet to formally “approve” CBD as a drug beneficiary to health, independent studies conducted by everyone from the top CBD companies on the market (see: Verma Farms), to Harvard Medical School have had affirmative results confirm claims that CBD is effective in treating pain relief, inflammation of muscles and joints, muscle spasticity, and anxiety; all symptoms commonly seen by athletes performing at high levels for large crowds.
The argument may be made by some that CBD is a performance enhancing drug, and so while it is legal for citizens to use, it is unethical to the integrity of sports to allow athletes to use them. However, most experts on CBD agree that the drug is more of therapeutic tool than a training or strengthening tool, and so it should be seem as no different than stretching or loading up on vitamins and potassium before a big game. Athletes are using CBD in the same ways that the average user is, for recovery and preventative measures. This is not a drug that could be manipulated to be used during a game to give some sort of “spur of the moment” boost. Players are using CBD to protect their bodies from serious damage and to sooth and health the bruises and pains incurred during play, post-game. If the NBA, and all other major league sports associations, are serious about player health, especially continued player health in retirement, they have to support athletes using CBD, one hundred percent.
So, while most agree that CBD is beneficial and that players in the NBA should be allowed to use CBD if they wish to do so, the question that we now still have is “what kind of restrictions should remain, if any, when it comes to CBD in the NBA?” CBD has grown a lot in the two years since its national legalization with the Farm Bill, and with that rapid expansion has come an increased amount of accessibility that truly opens up the world of CBD for all those that wish to enter. CBD oil, CBD gummies, CBD tincture, and pet snacks, and capsules, and salves: these all exist and may other forms, as well, proving that you can take CBD in just about any way you can imagine; but should NBA players be privy to all of these, or just some, or a combination of a few? Perhaps NBA players should only be allowed to use top-quality products, and they must find the best CBD oils and the best CBD gummies if they wish to use CBD under the jurisdiction of the NBA’s guidelines? Perhaps the league itself would control dispersal of CBD? Is there a scenario where the NBA would allow CBD oils but not CBD gummies?
Luckily, we can say with almost absolute certainty that the answer to the last question is a firm “no.” It’s a known fact across the CBD, health and wellness, and food worlds that CBD gummies are just as safe, and just as effective as CBD oils; They are virtually the same as long as the user is taking both in equal dosages of CBD. The only notable difference between the two is that CBD oil has a much faster absorption rate than CBD gummies. The gummies, because the CBD within them is attached to the food, must start being digested in order to start working, while the CBD oil starts working more instantaneously; though this difference should have no effect on the NBA’s decision to allow CBD gummies into the league, as opposed to CBD oils alone. There seems to be no real competitive advantage to taking CBD in any of its forms, so it seems highly unlikely that the NBA would allow one form of CBD, but disallow others, though stranger things have happened.
As of now, the NBA’s policy on drugs is classified into two categories: Drugs of Abuse and Non-Drugs of Abuse. The drugs categorized under “Drugs of Abuse” match up almost exactly with the DEA’s Schedule I Drug list: heroin, cocaine, LSD, MDMA; with one notable exception. While the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the NBA has historically been more lenient with the drug. Ever since the American Basketball Association (ABA) merged with the NBA in 1970, bringing with it a quirkier, more relaxed feel (and fun, new rules like the 3-point shot), the NBA has continually felt like the most player-friendly and forward-thinking of all major sports associations, and everyone around the league now expects that trend to continue.
While the NFL may be slightly ahead of the curve at the present point, in terms of providing the best they can for their players after just recently agreeing to a brand new CBA (though there has been plenty of controversy around the agreements finally signed upon), many agree that the NBA will surely not be far to follow in providing for their players, as well. The NBA notably stepped up just last fall, in October of 2019, when it stood up to Chinese pressure to censor a member of one team’s organization’s right to free speech after he made comments about Chinese intervention in Hong Kong. While the Chinese government threatened to hurt the NBA financially, the world watched, and in the end, Commissioner Adam Silver made a statement saying that the NBA would always support the freedom of speech in its players and organizations over financial situations, or other less valuable things. This is just one example of how the NBA has made a concerted effort to protect the interests, health, and values of its players and teams, and gives the impression that it will continue those efforts in the future.
All of these signs only point to one possible outcome, and with CBD oils and CBD gummies sure to be approved for players in the most forthcoming NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, it will be interesting to see how the CBD business responds to the highly marketable celebrity of the NBA. Collaborations and sponsorships between players and CBD companies are sure to start forming: perhaps basketball players will compete to see who can formulate the best CBD gummies, much like they now compete to see who can engineer the best and coolest pair of shoes. It seems like a funny concept now, but it might not be too far off of a future! With the NBA and CBD both on the immediate rise, it’s only logical to assume they will meet at the nexus. The only question now is will the league be able to keep up with the demand of the players, or will the commissioner and others be left scrambling to make up for wasted opportunities when the time matters?