The NBA recently announced their decision to no longer test players for cannabis use during the 2020-2021 seasons. Previously, the NBA has waived the need for drug testing due to the need to limit contact with players during the pandemic, while trying to manage the already complex rules set in place for the shortened season. The announcement that the NBA would once again skip testing for cannabis use may hint at significant changes in the future of sports and drug testing.

Players and Pain Management

Cannabis is already well known for its medical benefits and its ability to help people treat chronic pain, and NBA players are supposedly no different, reportedly using cannabis for pain management and to counter inflammation. Despite the heavy penalties previously given for cannabis use by the NBA, it is estimated that 50%-80% of players have used cannabis to treat the health conditions mentioned above. Additionally, while cannabis is a drug, is far from a performance-enhancing one, and does not give an added advantage to athletes who use it compared to any other painkiller.
One NBA veteran pushing for greater acceptance of cannabis in the world’s leading basketball league is Al Harington. Harington had used CBD in 2012 while rehabilitating a knee damaged by multiple botched surgeries. Since then, not only has the former basketballer become a vocal advocate for medical cannabis, he has also started a company to produce and market medicinal and recreational cannabis products

What the Industry Can Do to Further Cannabis Acceptance in Sports

To make medical cannabis less stigmatized and to allow the NBA, as well as other sports leagues, to adopt long-term pro-cannabis policies, scientific research into treatment safety and efficacy must be promoted by the cannabis industry.
Until December of 2018, the federal government classified CBD as a “Schedule I” substance, making performing studies of it extremely complicated. While studies done on animals or in conjunction with other active substances found in cannabis, such as THC, do exist, it is difficult to draw any conclusive evidence from them that CBD alone can be used to treat pain in humans.
In order for medical cannabis use to gain further acceptance in sports, the cannabis industry must take matters into its own hands. Industry leaders must undertake the responsibility of performing or at least encouraging high quality, long-term tests performed on humans, from which conclusive results can then be drawn from. Unfortunately, there currently seems to be no shortcut for making cannabis a mainstream therapeutic treatment in the 21st century.