As the sports world struggles with the use of performance enhancing drugs, one substance almost always goes under the radar: cannabis.
But according to the new book “High level runnerâ(GP Putnam’s Sons) by Josiah Hesse, its use is common in professional sports.
Former Denver Nuggets basketball player Kenyon Martin estimates that 85% of NBA players use cannabis. Former Philadelphia Flyers manager Riley Cote reveals that at least half of NHL players do the same.
Cannabis use appears to be at an all-time high in the NFL, Dallas Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett claiming that nearly 90% of professional football players depend on it, mainly to manage pain, instead of touching opioids which can cause serious side effects and addiction.
“In every game you saw me I was on treatment,” Dallas Cowboys defensive end David Irving said in an Instagram post where he smoked a blunt before announcing his retirement in March. 2019.
âI smoked two blunts before every game,â Cowboys defensive lineman Shaun Smith admitted in an interview with Bleacher Report in 2019. âWhen I smoke, I can focus and do the job I have. I feel like no one can stop me when I was there. It’s the best thing for me.
Relieving pain is not the only reason. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin said he got high before every game just so he could deal with the anxiety he suffered from playing in front of a huge crowd.
âThe only thing that seemed to really work is when I was smoking marijuana,â he told Bleacher Report. “There isn’t a game I played in which I wasn’t raised.”
The important âtrickâ for athletes and cannabis, writes Hesse, is to use the substance, or its derivatives like CBD or TCH, at the right level. According to him, the anti-inflammatory properties of the drug not only soothe injuries, but they also aid recovery after heavy training, helping to alleviate fatigue. Used the right way, the effects of cannabis do the opposite of what athletes have come to believe, “that getting high would turn them into unnecessary couch monsters,” he writes.
Each sport organization has its own policies towards cannabis. The World Wrestling Federation, Hesse says, imposes a “weed tax” of $ 2,500 on anyone caught using it. The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), which sets the rules for more than 650 sports, still lists cannabis as a prohibited substance for competitive athletes.
In June, the US Anti-Doping Agency suspended 100m sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson for a month when she tested positive for cannabis, costing her a spot on the US Olympic team at the Games. of Tokyo this year. Golfer Matt Every was suspended from the PGA Tour for three months in 2018 after testing positive for cannabis, despite a legal medical prescription in his home state of Florida.
Meanwhile, some leagues have wholeheartedly embraced cannabis. Many Ultimate Fighting Championship contenders, such as Derrick Lewis and Nate Diaz, admit to using it. âThere’s even a stoned jiu jitsu league, High Rollerz, where fighters share a joint before they crash into the mat,â writes Hesse.
The 420 Games, founded in 2014, have gone even further. Held in Boulder, Colorado, it brought together those who like to âmix weed and workoutâ in a sort of âMarijuana Olympicsâ. The tournament attempted to show that cannabis-loving athletes can be healthy and active, “instead of the pervasive perception that we’re all crippled trolls subsisting on 7-Eleven snacks and role-playing video games,” writes Hesse.
Based in Denver, Colo., Hesse is an investigative journalist who embarked on the race to try to change a life that was getting out of hand, as he drank “the equivalent of an Olympic pool of alcohol every day. evening “.
His discovery of cannabis ‘edibles’ got him off the couch and hit the streets, turning him into “a sedentary slug with a drinking problem a day into an energized antelope who eats 10Ks for breakfast” , he writes. (While smoking cannabis can increase the risk of everything from bronchitis to cancer, ingesting edibles – any food product that contains milligrams of regulated THC – at a controlled dose may be a safer way to consume it. )
For Hesse, taking 10 to 20 milligrams of THC before each run has transformed exercise from “pure misery” into “a deeply meditative, inspiring, and downright hedonistic activity.”
This revelation prompted him to explore scientific evidence showing that cannabis can actually improve athlete performance.
Cannabis first came under federal government control in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. In 1952, severe mandatory sentences for cannabis and other drug offenses were introduced. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 officially banned the use of cannabis for any purpose, although it also abolished mandatory minimum sentences – making possession of cannabis a felony into an offense.
For decades, many athletes have tried to dispel the notion of dangerous cannabis. In the 1970s, NFL star Dave Meggyesy, a linebacker with the St. Louis Cardinals, was chairman of the “Jocks for Joynts” action group which aimed to bring about changes in politics and sport in matters of marijuana. His group even once challenged some anti-marijuana players to a game, where they would play high and the other side sober. (It never happened.)
Gradually, the idea that cannabis might not be as harmful as, say, alcohol, began to gain traction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 10 deaths among working-age adults between the ages of 20 and 64 in the United States is due to excessive alcohol consumption, while the cost to the American economy of illnesses related to alcohol is worth almost $ 250 billion.
The US government, meanwhile, doesn’t even track deaths caused by cannabis overdoses. Why? Because there never was, even though “many people took too much, suffered from anxiety attacks and went to the emergency room with the certainty that they were dying,” writes Hesse.
Such studies have led to major changes. Today, 19 states in the United States and Washington, DC, have legalized the use of cannabis while the use of medicinal marijuana is now legal in 37 states.
In May 2013, WADA increased the threshold for cannabis in an athlete’s system from 15 nanograms to 150 nanograms tenfold, allowing athletes to participate during training, knowing they can easily reach the required level. once the competition has started. In 2018, they also removed CBD from their list of prohibited substances, in competition or out of competition.
The NFL also recently increased the acceptable limit for THC in a player’s system from 35 to 150 nanograms and will no longer suspend players for testing positive cannabis. In June, they announced a new commission, alongside the league players union, with up to $ 1 million in grants awarded to researchers to study the therapeutic potential of marijuana, CBD and other alternatives to drugs. opioids to treat pain.
In 2019, Major League Baseball removed cannabis from its list of banned substances following pressure from its players’ union (although the league still prohibits players from being high during a game or being sponsored by a player. cannabis company). And, in 2020, the NBA suspended random player testing for cannabis.
These changes, writes Hesse, are long overdue, but there is still a long way to go.
“Will professional sport ever drop its ban on cannabis and embrace this lucrative industry the same way alcohol does?” ” he asks.
“Or will cannabis cultivation just have to create its own sporting events?” “