Cannabis provides benefits to athletes including both physical and mental recovery. It can reduce inflammation, pain and improve brain function after traumatic head injuries. Mentally, it can help athletes reduce depression, stress, and nerves before a competition. Let’s deep dive into the history of cannabis in sports and the direction it is going today.

History of Cannabis in Sports

The use of cannabis in sports, mainly by top-level athletes, has been banned by many major sports for decades. Many leagues have tested their athletes semi-regularly for cannabis use to prevent athletes from consuming these substances.

Many leagues harked on the notion that cannabis was a performance enhancer that would give athletes an upper hand. Recent studies suggest that this is false and that there is no clear evidence that marijuana will help your sport’s performance.

Let’s look at a few of the major leagues in the United States and what their stand is on marijuana use for athletes today.

Cannabis in Sports

National Football League

The NFL Players Association has worked hard with the NFL to change its restrictions on cannabis use over the years. As the injuries in the NFL have increased every year since 2015, the use of opioids is also increasing. These are used to help manage pain but are also very addictive.

The NFL is fighting this increased opioid use by instituting a new policy that stated that at the start of the NFL 2021 season, players will no longer be tested for THC between April 20th and August 9th, right before training camp starts. Players will only be fined,not banned, for positive cannabis tests during the season.

Major League Baseball

The MLB was one of the first major US sports leagues to stop testing athletes for cannabis which is surprising as baseball tends to feel “old-school.” Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner, has been very progressive and great for progressing the sport to be more acceptable to its players and the public.

A couple of months after the NHL, the MLB removed marijuana from its banned substance list. Players are still held to a standard to not show up to games or practices on the drug. They, also, can’t be associated with or sponsored by a cannabis company.

National Basketball Association

The NBA started its policy of not randomly testing players for marijuana during covid to limit unnecessary contact in the “bubble.” This policy was extended into the 2020-2021 season for that same reason and on a trial basis to see how this new policy would work for the duration of a full season.

This was mainly due to talks between the player’s union and the league. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, isn’t loved by NBA fans but is slowly working to make the NBA more progressive to send the right message to the players and viewers about marijuana use.


The long discussion of whether to allow cannabis use in sports needs to be ended. The vast amount of negatives of prolonged use of opioids outweigh any negatives to marijuana. As more states move to legalize marijuana, it is an obligation for these sports leagues to back that decision and be an advocate for athletes’ mental and physical health.


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