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Is The NFL Considering Subbing Opiates For CBD?

Posted by Kerry Hinkle on

Two brown leather NFL footballs.

Is The NFL Considering Subbing Opiates for CBD?

When it comes to the player’s health, the NFL enjoys crawling while the major other sports organizations are walking. Historically, this is the approach the NFL is accustomed to. They have never been forward thinking let alone proactive in this department. 

Their stubbornness is mostly famously noted with their handling of concussions. And by handling I mean, keeping their players ignorant to the science and covering up the facts from the public. Hoping that one day the problem will simply go away. 

How does the NFL handle health for such a violent sport? Opiates. The highly addictive life-threatening drug that has caused a nation-wide epidemic. But I thought the NFL has a strict no drug policy?

They do, but that’s reserved for more dangerous drugs like, Marijuana. Players have been suspended, and even banned, because they tested positive for marijuana; the later being a result of multiple suspensions. 

The times they are a-changin '! The NFL is finally opening its mind up towards marijuana use along with the health benefits of CBD.

The NFLPA, The National Football League Players Association, has been urging the conservative organization to relax their stance on cannabis and the punishment that went along with it. Forcing them the light side of cannabis, to finally put in some effort to research its therapeutic qualities. 

This process will be a crawl. The NFLPA and the NFL constantly butt heads over everything, really. Many experts believe the NFL will not make a change unless they can profit off of said change.

You might already be familiar with the term “collective bargaining agreement'', which is often used when referring to this slow process. However, the NFL has stated that they are not looking to bargain during their examination of marijuana and CBD, these are the same people that said concussions do not correlate with brain damage. 

The NFL is crawling in the right direction, now we are waiting for them to start taking baby-steps. We don’t know what the NFL will do in the future, so instead, let’s keep our focus on the baby-steps they just took. 


A Houston Texan's football player kneels before the game starts.

The NFL's Relationship With CBD

In 2020 the NFL-NFLPA created “The Fact Finding Form”, because alliteration rules. The Fantastic Forum held two informational public meetings on CBD and cannabis use. The purpose was not to establish a new policy, but “to learn about the current state of CBD science and manufacturing in North America”. 

More specifically, the NFL was looking into CBD  and its potential to treat and manage acute pain; along with the additional benefits of the different delivery systems: topicals, capsules, tinctures, and vaporizers

First, the NFL wanted to compile all the research they could before making any major decisions - these are the baby-steps. 

To conduct their studies the NFL established the PMC, Pain Management Committee, made entirely of healthcare and medical professionals. The PMC had three things in mind during this process: 

1) The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered to be alternatives to opioids in routine pain management of NFL players. Medications may include, but are not limited to, cannabinoids such as cannabidiol. 

2). The impact of cannabis or cannabinoids on athletic performance in NFL players.

3) The potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered adjunctive to routine post-surgical orthopedic pain management in NFL football players. 

With these factors in mind, the task of the PMC is to establish a fair and consistent policy for the NFL when it comes to their regulations on drug uses - The NFL plans to bring in these same experts to help with future studies in this field.  One of the biggest areas of focus for the committee was on the manufacturer who produces these CBD-based products. 

The PMC results are a mixture of good news and bad news. They determined that cannabis does show promise in the treatment of acute pain, but it is not as promising as they had hoped for. Don’t be alarmed with this. If you are familiar with CBD studies then you already know what’s coming next. 

The conclusion they came to was a result of the overall lack of studies that have been done on CBD.  Even though the PMC found a handful of successful trials where marijuana and two FDA-approved cannabinoids successfully treated acute pain; there simply were not enough of said trials to affirm the notion of CBD being substituted for opiates. 

“CBD is a promising compound, but the level of its use in the United States outpaces the level of research at this point” - A direct quote from their findings.

The NFL is looking for a controlled substance and currently CBD does not fall into that category. They are still skeptical of CBD because it is not regulated by the FDA, which leads to inconsistent products with varying degrees of potency and purity.  

They must not be aware of the United States Hemp Authority, a committee of the industry’s leading experts. Their job is to make sure all CBD on the market is up to their golden standards.

Unfortunately, as the NFL came to know, there are a ton of bad products available to consumers. Hopefully, the NFL will take a look into the US Hemp Authority, see what they have done for the industry, and only allow products that have been approved by them. 


A generic football team in a huddle before the play begins.

A Quick Huddle - NFL’s Current Stance On Cannabis Use

The league’s drug testing policy has changed over the years, largely thanks to the efforts of the NFLPA. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement will eliminate the suspension of players who test positive for marijuana. 

Rather than keeping the old ways of  penalizing marijuana users, the NFL has now taken a proactive approach to the situation. The removal of this punishment is a big victory for current players who are looking for alternatives to opioids; even though the NFL has yet to accept CBD or marijuana as a substitute. 

The area that gets tricky is the new intervention program the NFL has set in place to help their players off the field deal with drug abuse. A player admitted to this program will receive a treatment plan after a full evaluation of their addiction. Excessive use of marijuana will lead a player to be placed in this intervention program. 

The tricky part comes when a player has been sent to the intervention program and still tests positive for a prohibited substance. It is to my understanding that this hypothetical player will not be suspended, but they will still face some sort of punishment. That punishment being:

Testing positive for prohibited substances after that point would result in a half-week salary loss for first violations, a one-week salary loss for second violations, a two-week salary loss for third violations and a three-week salary loss for fourth and subsequent violations. The threat of suspensions would be removed.


A NFL referee with his hands in the air signalling a touchdown.

The CBD Super Bowl

The NFL has acknowledged the fact that opioids are not the best method for treating pain. They have accepted the IDEA that CBD and Cannabis COULD be an alternative. That is how far the NFL has gotten on this subject. In football terms, I’d say they are still on their own 35 yard-line. 

Many critics of the NFL say their practice of taking baby-steps when it relates to more forward thinking ideas is commonplace; don’t expect any big decisions to be  made soon.

In 2019 people believed marijuana would be accepted in the NFL by 2021; that hasn’t happened yet and looks like it won’t happen at the start of the season. 

Again, nobody really knows if or when the NFL will incorporate CBD or cannabis products into their sport. And if they do go that route, It is uncertain how far the NFL will take the ball down the field; if they will score an epic touchdown, or settle for a basic field goal.

There is one positive takeaway: The NFL is no longer suspending people who test positive for marijuana. Fines are still in place for recurring users, so it’s not perfect, but it is a change.

Slowly but surely, these small policy changes could lead to a breakthrough with how the NFL threats mental health and pain management.  

Hail Mary time: maybe the NFL taking a more modern approach to cannabis will in turn change the minds of those who religiously watch the sport into becoming more CBD friendly.  


The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. While research has shown that CBD has the potential to help provide beneficial outcomes for several complaints, it is advisable to seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider when you have questions regarding any medical condition and when starting, augmenting or discontinuing any existing health routine. 

FDA Disclaimer: Any statements made within this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. No products produced, manufactured, marketed, or distributed are intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult your physician before beginning any supplements or botanical extracts. If pregnant or breast feeding, consult with your physician before use. For use by adults 18+. Keep out of reach of children.


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