Do NFL Players Use Cannabis?

Recent changes to the NFL’s drug testing guidelines in 2020 have sparked conversation and controversy in the sports world. 

Do NFL Players Use Cannabis?

Until 2021, NFL players were not permitted to smoke or otherwise consume cannabis, regardless of whether it was prescribed for medicinal purposes or not.

Up until this point, random drug tests could be administered, and the presence of THC in a player’s system could result in severe penalties. 

However, that has all changed over the last year and a half, leaving a lot of NFL fans asking the million dollar question: ‘Do NFL Players Use Cannabis’. Let’s find out more. 

The NFL’s Drug Policy

Before we get into the recent changes to the NFL’s rules surrounding cannabis use, let’s talk about how the NFL’s overall drug policy has evolved over the years.

Previously, NFL players could be suspended and even banned from playing for the NFL for life if it was discovered that they were using marijuana.

One example of this is the case of Ricky Williams, who was a running back for the NFL and ended up being suspended after a random drug test found cannabis in his system. This means that he was unable to play during the season of 2006. 

More recent examples can also be cited. As recently as 2016, players were still receiving harsh suspensions for cannabis use, like Martavis Bryant, who was banned from the 2016 season because he was found to have been smoking cannabis. 

It should be noted that many of the suspended players were extremely valuable to the NFL. Ricky Williams, for instance, scored a total of 66 touchdowns over the course of his career, so for him to be suspended made a big statement about the NFL’s position on cannabis.

So, what’s changed? 

Are NFL Players Allowed To Smoke Cannabis? 

In 2020, the NFL changed its policy regarding players using cannabis. While the presence of THC in a drug test would previously have resulted in an immediate suspension, NFL players will no longer be tested for Delta 9 THC Carboxylic Acid between April 20th and the 9th of August each year. 

Players will still be tested during training camp (which happens in August) but whereas the threshold for what would be considered a positive test used to be 35 nanograms, it has been increased to 150 nanograms.

This means that players can even continue to use cannabis in moderation during training season. 

Of course, not all states have legalized medical cannabis, so this does not mean that all NFL players are legally entitled to smoke or consume marijuana at any location. However, medicinal cannabis is legal in several NFL base locations, and recreational cannabis is also permitted in some jurisdictions. 

With that being said, should a player fail to appear for testing, a first violation would be punished with a $20,000 fine. Subsequent violations would cost players up to 4 weeks’ salary.

Meanwhile, a positive test for either an amount of THC exceeding 150 nanograms or another banned drug could result in a punishment ranging from ½ a week’s salary to 3 weeks’ salary. 

Suspensions will now start to be handed out for players who fail to cooperate with testing or medical care 4 or more times, and a 7th violation under this category means an indefinite ban of at least a year. 

How Many NFL Players Smoke Marijuana?

If you’re wondering whether NFL players smoke weed, and how many players consume cannabis regularly, it’s estimated that roughly 89% of NFL players use marijuana to cope with a variety of symptoms associated with the sport. 

This might seem like a pretty high (no pun intended) percentage, but it makes sense when you consider how intense the sport is. Players tend to experience a lot of physical symptoms, primarily pain and inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory drugs are not a long-term solution since they can eventually start to cause liver damage, so cannabis is ultimately a safer option. 

It’s also safer than prescribed opioids, since 71% of all players who reported being prescribed these drugs for pain management during their careers admitted to having misused the substances since they are highly addictive.

It’s also important to consider the psychological effects of being an NFL player. Several players have recently opened up about the struggles they experienced with their mental health while playing for the NFL, including Calvin Ridley, Everson Griffen, and A.J. Brown. 

The stress and pressure of high-stakes sporting events and rigorous training, combined with the stigma around men’s mental health, can lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and cannabis has been proven to be effective in managing the symptoms of these conditions. 

What About Other Drugs? 

While the NFL has relaxed its policy on cannabis use, other drugs remain prohibited and will still be tested for. These include steroids, peptide and protein hormones, stimulants, masking agents, and many more substances detailed in the NFL’s drug policy, which is a full 22 pages long. 

The main concerns outlined by the NFL are opiate, opioid, cocaine, amphetamine, and phencyclidine abuse.

Violations involving any drugs of this kind are punishable according to the penalties outlined earlier in the article, ranging from a salary deduction to a suspension of anywhere from a week to over a year depending on how many violations have occurred. 

Final Thoughts 

Although NFL punishments for the use of cannabis used to be harsh, the rules have relaxed as of 2020, and players are now permitted to use marijuana medicinally or recreationally depending on the laws of the state in which they are based, between April and August. 

NFL players are also permitted to use marijuana during the training camp in August provided that they do not produce a result of more than 150 nanograms of THC on a drug test. 

This means that players for the NFL can finally use cannabis to manage pain as opposed to damaging anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids, and can also use it to deal with the mental health conditions that coincide with playing sports at a professional level.

Josh Barton
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