Pain management, inflammation reduction, anxiety relief, increased overall well-being: with users purporting such benefits, who would better profit from CBD than players in the National Football League?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, has long been demonized by the leaders of worldwide sports organizations, languishing on athletic banned substances lists throughout all major sports. That is, until 2018: In January of that year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from its list of banned substances.

This caused a ripple effect throughout sporting agencies and athletic clubs, many of which are considering regulatory changes in order to allow players to use CBD as a natural alternative to abusable pharmaceuticals. These organizations seem to be stalling until further research is completed, however — and as of right now, only professional tennis players and PGA golfers have a definitive “OK”  to supplement using CBD.

So where does that leave the NFL?


The NFL has long been renowned for athlete abuse. Major publications across the country have criticized the league for player safety issues and the over-availability of potentially harmful prescription pharmaceuticals routinely given to injured players.

Percy Harvin – an eight-year NFL veteran and Super Bowl champion – dealt with a number of pain and anxiety-related ailments during his time in the NFL. “You’re looking at a guy who was at the Mayo Clinic and had at least seven prescriptions that I was to take,” he said in an October 2019 interview. But Harvin said that none of those prescriptions, so eagerly thrown his way, actually worked — and he instead turned to cannabis.

And Harvin’s not alone. The list of pro-cannabis players in the NFL is long, and it’s still growing. Many ex-NFL stars have come forward in recent years to advocate for rule changes in both the NFL’s stance towards CBD and towards medicinal cannabis in general.

Ex-Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, who now runs a sports podcast and web show, responds to many cannabis-related happenings around the NFL. “It has shown that it makes big wonders for your body. For instance, there’s a lot of players that live and die by CBD now. I like to use it a lot. [CBD products help] put me to sleep and they’ve also made the arthritis in my knees kind of disappear.”

But despite what ex-NFL players have to say, the reality of the situation is complicated. The NFL doesn’t openly allow players to use any cannabis-derived product, CBD included. However, the rules around regulating what players ingest are hazy at best.


According to John Moffitt, who played in the League for three years, the NFL only drug tests once per year, making it very easy for players to use cannabis throughout both the season and the off-season. “In a way, the NFL is kind of looking away [from players’ cannabis use],” he said in a 2018 interview.

In fact, many players have spoken openly about how easy it is to bypass that solitary drug test, and some even advocate doing away with that one test altogether. “Why have that once-a-year test when [cannabis] is so beneficial for all the players that use it?” said Ryan Clady, who played in the NFL for eight years.

And while players are drug tested for THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that gets you high, drug tests don’t actively account for CBD products. However, current NFL players are forced to shy away from speaking out about CBD use because all cannabis-derived products are banned by the NFL.

In essence, the NFL is administering a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, allowing players to use CBD by not actively questioning them about the supplement while demonizing cannabis generally — to an extent that players feel they need to remain secretive about their beneficial CBD treatments.

According to Pat McAfee, that’s no accident. “The people who are the old heads in charge of the NFL will either have a change of heart about cannabis, they’ll be forced to do that, or they’ll move out and somebody else will move in who hasn’t had such a terrible reaction to cannabis.”


With a staggering number of ex-football stars coming forward to advocate for CBD in the NFL, it’s difficult to determine how much longer the National Football League will be able to stall talks about allowing the supplement in player treatment. 

The most important thing, at least right now, may just be that players are talking more openly about it. “If things get into conversation, normally a change is coming,” said McAfee. Normally, the NFL is quick to implement rule changes — especially when changes would have a significant impact on player health and safety, as allowing CBD would.

As of August 2019, NFL darling Rob Gronkowski has come forward to pressure those in charge of NFL regulations to allow players to use cannabidiol. “For the first time in more than a decade, I am pain-free. And that is a big deal,” he said at an NFL press conference while advocating for CBD use. “I’m here today to appeal to the sports governing bodies of the world to update their position on CBD. It would have made a huge difference for me, I believe, during my playing career.”

Rob Gronkowski, known as “Gronk,” played as superstar Tom Brady’s right-hand man and created an unprecedented dynasty under head coach Bill Belichick. With Gronk now behind the wheel of the CBD train, the NFL elite are certainly taking notice.

According to Pat McAfee, “I think we’re about to fall into an era where the NFL could potentially be looking out for its players a lot more than it has in the past. And I’m all the way here for it.”

So are we, Pat. So are we.

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