Cannabis and Sports: The Rise of Cannabis-Friendly Athletes

by | Jan 14, 2024 | Guides

In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift in the sports world’s attitude towards cannabis, particularly in leagues like the NFL and NBA. This change is not just a matter of policy but also a reflection of a deeper understanding of the physical and mental demands placed on professional athletes. In this blog, we’ll explore how NFL players are using cannabis to cope with the physical toll of the sport, delve into the evolving attitudes in the NBA, and highlight athletes who have become vocal advocates for cannabis use.


NFL Players and Cannabis: Coping with the Physical Toll


The NFL is notoriously demanding, with players often sustaining severe physical injuries. Pain management is a critical aspect of an athlete’s career in this league. Traditionally, this meant a heavy reliance on prescription painkillers, which come with a host of side effects and risks of addiction. However, there’s a growing trend among players to turn to cannabis as a safer alternative. This shift is driven not just by players’ personal experiences but also by emerging research suggesting the potential of cannabis in managing pain and inflammation, offering a more natural and less harmful option compared to opioids.

Calvin Johnson, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver, is one such proponent. After his retirement, Johnson spoke openly about how he used cannabis throughout his career to deal with the pain and stress of professional football. He’s not alone in his views. Many current and former players have echoed similar sentiments, advocating for the league to reconsider its stance on cannabis, particularly given its potential for pain management and recovery. Their voices are increasingly being heard, leading to a growing conversation within the sports community about the role of cannabis in athlete wellness.

Johnson’s experience brings to light the need for more player-friendly health management approaches within the NFL. His advocacy has opened the door for more open conversations about the use of cannabis in professional sports, shifting the narrative from one of stigma to one of understanding and potential benefit. The impact of such advocacy is significant – it challenges long standing policies and paves the way for new, research-backed approaches to health and wellness in sports. As more athletes share their positive experiences with cannabis, it prompts a reevaluation of outdated perceptions and policies, potentially leading to a more health-conscious and informed approach to pain management in the NFL.


The NBA’s Changing Attitudes Towards Cannabis


The NBA, too, is undergoing a transformation in its approach to cannabis. In recent years, the league has softened its stance, a move that reflects changing societal attitudes towards cannabis use. This significant shift in perspective is also being driven by a growing body of scientific research that underscores the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis, particularly in addressing chronic pain and mental health issues, areas of concern for many athletes. The NBA’s changing stance is a clear acknowledgment of these evolving understandings and the need for more progressive health management strategies.

Players like Al Harrington and Matt Barnes have been vocal about their cannabis use and its benefits, not just in terms of physical recovery but also in dealing with the mental pressures of the game. Their openness about their experiences has been instrumental in initiating a broader conversation about cannabis in professional sports. By sharing their personal stories, these athletes have helped to humanize the issue, showing that cannabis use can be a part of a responsible and balanced approach to health and wellness.

Their advocacy has been crucial in destigmatizing cannabis use among athletes and has contributed to the ongoing discussions about policy changes in the league. It has encouraged a reevaluation of the punitive measures previously imposed for cannabis use, leading to more supportive and health-focused approaches. The NBA’s evolving attitude is reflective of a larger trend in sports, where the well-being of athletes is increasingly being prioritized over traditional norms and practices. This change is not only significant for current players but also sets a precedent for future generations, signaling a more open and understanding approach to cannabis and athlete health.


Potential Benefits for Players


The potential benefits of cannabis use for athletes are multifaceted. On the physical front, it offers a less addictive alternative to opioid painkillers, with anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in recovery. This can be especially crucial for athletes who are in constant recovery mode from the physical exertions and injuries inherent in sports. Additionally, the natural pain-relieving properties of cannabis can be a game-changer for those looking for effective pain management solutions without the adverse side effects often associated with traditional pain medication. For many players, cannabis also provides a means to manage stress and anxiety, which are common in high-pressure sports environments. The calming effects of certain cannabis strains can help athletes maintain a more balanced mental state, which is essential for peak performance.

The anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of cannabinoids like CBD are of particular interest. Unlike THC, CBD does not have psychoactive effects, making it an appealing option for athletes who need to maintain focus and coordination. It’s being increasingly used in creams, balms, and tinctures, offering localized relief without systemic effects that might impact performance or mental clarity. Furthermore, the therapeutic potential of CBD extends beyond physical pain relief, as it’s also being studied for its role in concussion management and neuroprotection – critical areas of concern in contact sports like football and boxing.

The growing interest in CBD among athletes is part of a larger trend towards more natural, holistic approaches to health and wellness in the sports community. It reflects a shift away from reactive medicine towards a more preventive, maintenance-oriented approach to the physical and mental health of athletes. As research continues to unfold the myriad benefits of cannabis and its compounds, it’s likely that more athletes will turn to these natural remedies not just for pain relief and recovery, but also as a regular part of their wellness and performance optimization routines.

image of a male athlete using a CBD tincture

Athletes Advocating for Change

The rise of cannabis-friendly athletes extends beyond the NFL and NBA. Figures like Mike Tyson, who has his own cannabis ranch, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps have also brought attention to cannabis use in sports. Their experiences and advocacy play a crucial role in changing the narrative around cannabis, emphasizing its potential therapeutic benefits rather than its recreational use.

These athletes are not just using their platforms to advocate for cannabis acceptance in sports; they are also involved in business ventures and educational campaigns. This involvement is crucial in driving research and informed discussions about the role of cannabis in sports medicine.


Impact on the Sports World


The advocacy of well-known athletes for cannabis use has a ripple effect across the sports world. It challenges long-standing stereotypes and opens up a dialogue about the health and wellness of athletes. This conversation is leading to a broader understanding that responsible cannabis use can be an integral part of an athlete’s health and recovery regimen, rather than a recreational indulgence or a taboo. The movement spearheaded by these athletes is not only reshaping public perception but is also encouraging a more holistic approach to athlete care, where mental health and alternative therapies are given as much attention as physical training and recovery.

This shift also puts pressure on sports leagues and governing bodies to reconsider their cannabis policies. As more research emerges supporting the benefits of cannabis, these organizations face a growing call to align their policies with modern medical understanding and societal attitudes. The change in stance by major sports leagues could have a significant impact on the health management of athletes, potentially leading to reduced reliance on more harmful substances like opioids. Moreover, the evolving landscape around cannabis in sports is prompting important conversations about drug testing, therapeutic use exemptions, and the distinction between performance-enhancing substances and those used for medical purposes.

The impact of athlete advocacy and the changing attitudes towards cannabis in sports are not just limited to professional leagues but also resonate in amateur sports and with the general public. This growing acceptance and understanding of cannabis in the sports community reflect a larger trend towards more progressive health and wellness practices. As this trend continues, it can pave the way for more comprehensive and compassionate health care options for athletes at all levels, setting new standards for how sports organizations approach the health and well-being of their participants.




The rise of cannabis-friendly athletes marks a significant turning point in the sports world. From the NFL to the NBA and beyond, there’s a growing recognition of the potential benefits of cannabis for athletes. This shift is not just about allowing cannabis use but also about prioritizing the health and well-being of athletes, offering them safer alternatives for pain management and mental health.

As we move forward, it’s crucial to continue the conversation, support research, and advocate for policy changes that reflect our evolving understanding of cannabis. The experiences and voices of athletes like Calvin Johnson are leading the way,showing us that cannabis can be part of a responsible and effective approach to health management in sports.

The future of cannabis in sports hinges on education, research, and open dialogue. As more athletes come forward with their experiences and as the scientific community delves deeper into the potential benefits of cannabis, we can expect a more nuanced and informed approach to cannabis policies in sports organizations. This evolution will likely see a greater emphasis on the health and safety of athletes, considering cannabis as part of a holistic approach to their physical and mental well-being.

The conversation around cannabis in sports is about more than just policy changes; it’s about a cultural shift. As society’s views on cannabis continue to evolve, so too does the perception of cannabis among athletes and sports enthusiasts. This change is breaking down barriers and stigmas associated with cannabis use and is opening up new avenues for pain management and mental health support in the high-stress world of professional sports.

In closing, the rise of cannabis-friendly athletes is a significant development in the sports world. It represents a growing awareness of the limitations of traditional pain management methods and a shift towards more holistic, athlete-centric health solutions. As this trend continues, it will be interesting to see how leagues and regulatory bodies adapt and evolve their policies to support the health and success of their athletes. The journey of integrating cannabis into the sports world is just beginning, and its progression will be an important one to watch in the years to come.

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