Alibi V.28 No.30 • July 25-31, 2019 

Cannabis Manual

Sporting Chance

THC in pro athletics

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In late May, mere days after retiring from pro football, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long revealed that he’d regularly used cannabis over the course of his athletic career on “The Dan Patrick Show.”

“I’m not a dry snitch,” Long told Patrick. “I’m not going to put a percentage on how much of the league smokes, but I certainly enjoyed my fair share on a regular basis through my career. I was never afraid to say that, but I’m able to say it more explicitly now. Listen: If not for that, I’m not as capable of coping with the stresses of everyday NFL life.”

Martellus Bennett, who retired from the NFL in 2018, said he estimated that “about 89 percent” of NFL players smoke cannabis on the "The Lefkoe Show."

Testing NFL players for THC has become a hot button issue in recent years. A number of players have come out of the cannabis closet including Eugene Monroe, Jake Plummer, Ricky Williams, Kyle Turley and David Irving.

During a recent episode of “Yahoo! Sports NFL Podcast,” Terez Paylor talked about the NFL’s recent decision to team up with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to create the Joint Pain Management Committee. The committee will look at pain management alternatives to opioids. One function the committee will serve is to research the use of cannabis to alleviate athletes’ pain. Paylor said not to expect the rules on using cannabis to relax any time soon, since players will be too busy haggling over other issues, but to expect changes in the coming months or years.

Currently cannabis use is banned by the league, but those who’ve never had a drug violation are only tested once a year between April 20 and August 9. To fail that test, a player has to have more than 35 nanograms of THC in their system. This controls for those who were exposed to secondhand smoke. Players don’t face suspension until their fourth failed drug test.

“I think that testing is arbitrary,” Long told Patrick. “The league—speaking plainly—knows damn well what they’re doing. Testing players once a year for ‘street drugs’—which is a terrible classification for marijuana—is kind of silly, because players know when the test is. We can stop. And in that month or two that you stop, you’re going to reach for the sleeping pills; you’re going to reach for the painkillers; you’re going to reach for the bottle a little bit more.”

It’s not just the NFL that is bumping against resistance to testing athletes’ THC levels. According to ESPN, around the time that Long was preaching on the radio, Mike Tyson, Floyd Landis, Jim McMahon, Frank Shamrock and over 100 football, basketball, hockey players and other former and current athletes signed a letter asking the World Anti-Doping Agency—the organization in charge of drug policies for the Olympics—to remove cannabis from its prohibited substances list.

“We have found an improved quality of life through cannabis and natural cannabinoids, including significant therapeutic and wellness benefits, and these positives should be freely available to all other athletes,” the letter reads. It says cannabis does not meet WADA requirements for a banned substance. For a substance to be banned by WADA, it must meet two of the following three criteria: The drug has the potential to enhance sporting performance, it represents a health risk to involved athletes or it violates the spirit of sport.

A WADA spokesperson said the list of banned drugs “is not static but evolves based on new scientific evidence, as well as, to a lesser degree, changes of use and cultural elements.”

The US Anti-Doping Agency makes the argument that marijuana actually is a performance-enhancing drug, though. According to their Marijuana FAQ: “Cannabis can cause muscle relaxation and reduce pain during post-workout recovery. It can also decrease anxiety and tension, resulting in better sport performance under pressure. In addition, cannabis can increase focus and risk-taking behaviors, allowing athletes to forget bad falls or previous trauma in sport, and push themselves past those fears in competition.”

How this all will play out is still unclear. So far, no one seems ready to make a big move one way or another. But for those of us who don’t play professional sports, this at least raises questions about the usefulness of cannabis in our personal pursuit of health. Maybe taking a hit from the bong before a hike isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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