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The NFL Is Changing Their Cannabis Policies to Better Support Players

By Danyal Swan September 25, 2021

As the Super Bowl nears once again, many people are focusing their attention on planning a Super Bowl party or rooting for their favorite team. Though these are exciting aspects of this time of year, there has recently been a significant shift in attention toward the NFL drug policy. With many states legalizing recreational marijuana, an examination of the NFL policies and punishments for drug use is overdue. This topic is especially relevant with the home of this year’s Super Bowl being Tampa, Florida.

Aerial view of Raymond James Stadium Tampa Florida home of NFL Super Bowl LV photograph taken Feb. 2 2021

Though recreational marijuana is not yet legal in Florida, steps have been taken to make marijuana available to those over the age of 21 for medical use with a qualifying condition .Currently, the state has a progressive stance on medical marijuana. At the crux of both the Super Bowl and a new policy on marijuana, Florida has become the perfect backdrop for the larger conversation that has been brewing around the NFL marijuana policy. It seems that now is the time for both the NFL and the state of Florida to examine the laws in place and determine if they’re still working.

NFL and Super Bowl Rules for Marijuana Use

To begin the conversation, it’s important to understand just how severe the current rules are surrounding marijuana use for NFL players. It seems that, in the past, the organization has held a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to players using this specific drug. To enforce the policies, the NFL subjected all players to random testing.The window for this drug testing was extremely long, lasting from April 20th to the beginning of August. This means that having 35 nanograms or more of THC in your system even during the NFL offseason resulted in increasingly severe punishments. As of March 2020, NFL players are only being tested for two weeks before the pre-season, and have limited the number of players who are randomly tested to boot during the season.

A first offender is sent to substance abuse classes, while multiple offenders face penalties such as fines oran order to attend counseling. You may ask, “What if football players use recreational cannabis?” This policy pays no mind to the fact that marijuana is now recreationally legal in many states, so the players may not even have been outside of the law when they partook. The NFL rules make no distinction in this area.

Are the NFL Rules Based on Sports Health Research?

Confusingly, not really. Though it stands to reason that the NFL should have an evidence-based reason for frowning upon the use of marijuana, it seems that the data doesn’t actively support many of their current policies. Studies have shown numerous health benefits of cannabis to athletes specifically. The foremost benefit of marijuana is its effect on inflammation. It seems that using cannabis can help ease soreness and tightness in muscles by combating inflammation. This means that cannabis could provide pain relief in the same category as NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Cannabis can also help with muscle spasms, as well as benefiting sleep and recovery time for players.

Exercising with Cannabis


While the NFL will likely never get to a place where they approve of players being actively high on the field, it seems that weed can indeed help players perform better. To explain the internal benefits, one must have a basic understanding of the body’s natural endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are compounds produced by the body and, through the endocannabinoid system, help the body to achieve homeostasis, or balance between all internal systems. Endocannabinoids bind to receptors and then are broken down by enzymes once they’ve completed their function. Though the body does this naturally without any additional medication or supplements, scientists have done shockingly little research on the function of the endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids are found in the cannabis plant, and mimic the structure of endocannabinoids. Research suggests that cannabinoids could relieve stress, reduce inflammation in the body, and alleviate pain.

What is known is that endocannabinoids help with several of the body’s functions, including:

  • Inflammation
  • Motor control
  • Bone remodeling and growth
  • Muscle formation
  • Cardiovascular system function

All of these are integral to an athlete’s performance. At this stage, though most of the research is anecdotal, it would seem that smoking cannabis before exercise boosts these functions and, in fact, improves performance and recovery.

Cannabis and Mental Health

The efficacy of cannabis in combating mental health issues and disorders has been well documented.

Medical marijuana can be used to treat several mood and brain disorders, such as:

  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Opiate Dependence
  • Multiple PersonalityDisorder/Schizophrenia

Though marijuana is not without its downsides, it certainly has fewer than many more “accepted” options that often leave mental illness sufferers feeling worse. Rather than using addictive drugs with a slew of side effects and interactions, many doctors and health professionals are turning to medical marijuana to help their patients with their mental health.

Mental Health and the NFL

Could cannabis ever be a mental health therapy for NFL players? (Image courtesy of Getty Images)

So, what does cannabis for mental health have to do with the NFL? It seems that in recent years, the organization has made important steps toward supporting the mental health of its players and staff. As of 2019, the NFL was working on expanding mental health services to include therapy and psychiatric resources. Though there is still a lot of stigma among the players about seeing a professional for mental health purposes, the organization as a whole sees the changes as a positive.

Mental health resources can help players with everything from anger issues to opioid dependency and are just another tool that can help the players be happier, healthier people on and off the field. As these resources continue to grow, more relaxed cannabis regulations within the NFL seems to be the logical next step. Because cannabis can have such a profoundly positive impact on mental health, it’s likely that the organization will begin to expand its mental health resources to include the implementation of marijuana for mood disorders.  

Drug Policy Changes in Professional Sports 

As the country adjusts the entrenched outlook on marijuana from negative to positive, many major sports teams are changing their tune. Recently, the MLB changed their policies on marijuana use, removing it from the banned substances list. It seems that instead of penalizing players for using marijuana, the organization is instead moving toward a more holistic perspective. While players can use the substance, they still must act within the codes of conduct for the league, and unsanctioned behavior while under the influence of cannabis is still prohibited.

However, the consequences for violating these codes will be rehabilitation and mental health resources rather than punishment. The league is also cracking down on cocaine and opioid use, testing for these drugs regularly. Again, if these substances are discovered, the MLB is working toward consequences that provide help and resources rather than punishment or suspension in the hopes that any athlete’s drug problems can be treated from the source.

The Future of Marijuana in the NFL 

With few policy changes made within the NFL in recent years, it’s hard to be sure of what the future will hold for NFL players and cannabis. It seems, though, that change is certainly coming. The majority of the players and staff, about 67%, support marijuana legalization. Even those who don’t seem to admit that there needs to be a change in the way that the sports league approaches punishment for marijuana use. With the onset of new mental health services and support, it’s likely that infractions upon the league’s drug policies will lead to rehabilitative services and education rather than penalties or fines.

Many of those with hesitations are concerned about the players’ privacy, stating that therapy and rehab services could get noticed by the public, whereas fines are private within the organization. There has also been some discussion of shortening the window in which players can be tested for THC. Currently, players can be tested nearly half of the year, whereas many suggest that new policies would include a window of only two weeks for testing.

Bringing the Cannabis Conversation to Super Bowl LV

Out side the stadium of Super Bowl LV at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida January 21, 2021

No matter the policies within the NFL, the backdrop for Super Bowl LV is a state with a thriving medical marijuana community. Those who plan to attend the event and are part of the Florida medical marijuana program, can be sure that they’ll be taken care of. Because this time of year highlights some of the most exciting times in the football season, the conversation about the NFL’s marijuana policies and Florida’s move to legalize recreational cannabis is truly colliding at an opportune moment. It stands to reason that Tampa’s upcoming event will amplify the situation throughout the state and country. We’re excited to see how the NFL and other major sports pro leagues will continue evolve their policies around cannabis.

Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.

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