A glimpse into marijuana’s benefits, side effects and usage in professional and collegiate athletics
Sports – whether at the high school, collegiate or professional level – take a serious toll on the human body. It’s no surprise that knee, shoulder and ankle ailments make up approximately 80 percent of all sports-related injuries.
In order to decrease pain, athletes use various methods such as NSAIDs (Ibuprofen), cryotherapy, RICE (resting, ice, compression, elevation) and prescription drugs. However, professional athletes, like former Chicago Bulls point guard Jay Williams, have recently stepped out to voice their opinions on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in the NBA and other sports associations.
Unlike Williams, former Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer is not encouraging a change of rules for marijuana use, but rather urging the NFL to increase medical marijuana research. Plummer wants CBD oil, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana plants, and its effects on current and former NFL players to be studied more intensely as he claims CBD has helped his body to recover.
Marijuana might be the key in alleviating pain from athletic injuries. However, the reason why associations ban marijuana and other medicinal hemp plants is because most contain THC. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the chemical component responsible for the psychoactive effects in marijuana. THC acts like an agonist by attaching to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, decreasing intercellular communication. Eventually, THC overwhelms the brain and causes the user to experience euphoric bliss.
California is one of 24 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. In October 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed medical marijuana regulations into law, allowing civilians to obtain any one of 17 licenses by 2018. Yet, the collegiate and professional sports associations are still prohibiting the use of the substance and drug testing their athletes.
So, why is this?
Studies show that THC acts as a bronchodilator in asthmatic patients. If THC increases airflow to the lungs, the athletic associations might see it as a direct unfair advantage. The athletes using marijuana would be able to utilize oxygen better and more effectively than non-users.
The calming effects of cannabis could also be an advantage. Suppose a new recruit faced their very first professional level game. Anxiety immediately overwhelms their body. If professional associations legalized the usage of marijuana, the new professional athlete would be able to use it to ease their state of mind, allowing them to perform at their highest level (no pun intended) – or there’s always the chance marijuana can induce paranoia and decrease hand-eye coordination in the individual.
People have also thought that marijuana causes aggression in some and potentially can lead to better sports performance in the United States. However, Stanford School of Medicine professor Dr. Keith Humphreys elaborated on the tale.
“We haven’t had much evidence of cannabis causing aggression in the United States,” Humphreys said in an email interview. “In Britain, where high-potency cannabis is more prevalent, there have been more reports of violence.”
Marijuana use will also reduce dependence upon narcotics. Opioids are highly addictive and subject to misuse. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported almost 2 million Americans were dependent upon prescription drugs. The CDC also noted that approximately half of the 14,000 overdose opioid deaths were caused by prescription opioids.
In 1996, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre went into rehabilitation for 46 days. He developed an addiction to Vicodin after being treated for injuries sustained by his athletic career. Athletes like Favre need high doses of opioids to alleviate the level of pain they experience. According to a telephonic survey, approximately 52 percent of 644 retired NFL players used narcotics and 71 percent said they misused them.
But, the long-term side effects of marijuana use might still outweigh the benefits. UC Davis Department of Emergency Medicine associate professor Dr. Magdalena Cerda found that people who smoked cannabis four or more days over the course of many years face financial, relationship and work-related difficulties compared to non-users. Long term side effects also include motivational issues such as apathy, motivation loss and following through with both long and short term plans.
How often does UC Davis drug tests their athletes? According to UC Davis’ official athletic website, they follow year-round NCAA standards:
“The NCAA has approved year-round drug testing in every sport,” the UC Davis website states. “This includes summer. You may be selected for drug testing even if you are in another state (or another country) during the summer; the NCAA has made arrangements for testing sites around the world and will require you to report to a site in a city near you. Drug testing happens very quickly. You will be contacted by phone by a staff member in UC Davis Athletics and given instructions. Typically you will report for drug testing 24 hours later.”
Students who test positive or fail to complete their drug test, will be ineligible for one year, forfeiting a year of eligibility. But, is UC Davis actually abiding by the NCAA rules? An anonymous student athlete weighed in on drug policies for their team.
“[My team] hasn’t gotten drug tested since I’ve been here,” an anonymous UC Davis student-athlete said. “The team was drug tested the year before I came in. I have not experienced the testing; however, I have heard you have to go to the bathroom in a cup while they watch you.”
A second UC Davis student athlete from a different team also voiced their opinion on their team’s drug policies – or lack thereof.
“I’m pretty sure no one on our team has been drug tested,” the second anonymous member said. “I’ve never been tested [during my time on the team]. We just get warned about it a lot.”
The anonymous sources also stated that they knew current student-athletes who were smoking marijuana recreationally during off-seasons. However, if the student were to be using it medicinally, the medical records are confidential between the athlete, trainer and their doctor.
The NCAA considers marijuana a street drug, completely forbidding the substance. Therefore, the Davis athletic department needs to be held accountable for their actions of failing to perform drug tests on some of their teams, especially if they are not using it for medicinal reasons.
In addition, UC Davis has the option to lead medical marijuana research for the sake of both collegiate and professional athletes in order to reduce their reliance on opioids. However, they have only studied the social and economic outcomes of using marijuana. After all, Davis ranked within the top universities for the fourth consecutive year for agriculture and forestry so they should use their expertise to fill in unanswered questions in the study of marijuana.
This whole situation draws into question other Division I athletic teams – especially football teams – who have millions of dollars are poured into them by the universities. According to Forbes, the expenses for the UCLA football team exceeded $19 million for the 2011-12 academic year, but the team raked in approximately 6 million dollars, pulling a total Kim Kardashian. Schools are making the extra dough from donors, endorsements and ticket sales. Top university competitors use the profit to build bigger and better stadiums. Are these athletic profit earning schools routinely drug testing their athletes up to NCAA standards, or are they like UC Davis – where drug testing rarely happens according to their athletes.
Unfortunately, Tina Tubbs, UC Davis director of Sports Medicine, was out of the office and unable to comment.
So what’s your take on athletes using marijuana for medicinal purposes?
Written by: Katie DeVore – firstname.lastname@example.org