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Is CBD Legal in Pro Sports?


CBD, a phytochemical found in cannabis plants, has been in the popular spotlight in recent years for its therapeutic potential. Until recently, no one was allowed to use CBD. Now, the average American can buy CBD flower both over-the-counter and online.

That begs the question: is CBD legal in pro sports? The answer is more complicated than many sports fans might think. While CBD does not have psychoactive properties, it could be considered a performance-enhancing substance. Coupled with the fact that it is derived from the same plant as THC, this complicates American leagues’ responses to CBD legalization. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took CBD off its banned substances list in 2018. Read on to find out how the six major American sports leagues responded.

CBD and the NFL

The National Football League (NFL) prohibits players from using any form of cannabis, including CBD. Players can test positive for 9-THC-carboxylic acid at a 35 ng/ml threshold, which indicates a positive change. Until 2014, the threshold was only 15 ng/ml. 

CBD isn’t explicitly listed under the NFL Player’s Association’s (NFLPA) policy on substance abuse. However, since it is still a cannabis product, the implication is that it is also banned. Advocates of CBD hope this will change when the NFLPA performs its next review.

CBD and the NBA

The National Basketball Association (NBA) banned cannabis in 1999. However, the NBA’s stance on CBD is less clear. The league’s regulations don’t mention it by name. However, since CBD is still a cannabis product, most players try to stay clear of it out of caution. 

Many NBA members have spoken out about the benefits of hemp-based CBD and even medical marijuana for players. That could indicate positive changes in culture. For now, players should avoid CBD themselves but continue advocating for it if they want to see it removed from the banned substances list. 

CBD and the WNBA

As with the NBA, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has also listed cannabis and its byproducts as banned substances. The league’s collective bargaining agreement lists a specific marijuana program in its anti-drug section. It does not directly address CBD, but the implication is that as a cannabis product, it is still banned.

CBD and the NHL

The National Hockey League (NHL) is the exception to the rule of professional sports. It has never prohibited cannabis use. Players aren’t encouraged to use marijuana or other cannabis products, but they aren’t penalized with suspensions or fines. 

NHL players who test positive for cannabinoids undergo drug assessments by NHL-approved doctors. If the doctor deems it necessary, they will recommend the player to rehabilitative programs. It will not affect players’ ability to hit the rink after completing treatment. 


Major League Baseball (MLB) players aren’t subjected to the regulations that apply to the NFL or the NBA. The MLB is not strict about cannabis use among players at all. Players do not undergo routine or random drug testing. Instead, the league only tests players with probable cause. 

Technically, marijuana is a banned substance for MLB players. However, the threshold for THC is high at 50 ng/ml, and even if a player exceeds that limit, severe punishments are rare. The MLB may impose fines but rarely suspends players. 

The situation is similar when it comes to CBD. The MLB has never established thresholds for testing. While CBD is technically a banned substance since it comes from the cannabis plant, players are unlikely to experience problems. Those who want to avoid fines can purchase hemp-based broad-spectrum CBD that contains 0% THC. Since the MLB doesn’t test for CBD, that should prevent any problems. 

CBD and the MLS

In Major League Soccer (MLS), players follow the same regulations set out by WADA and FIFA. According to wada cbd is no longer considered a banned substance, and FIFA has never prohibited it. That means soccer players can use CBD.  

As of 2020, MLS players still can’t use other cannabis products, such as recreational and medicinal marijuana. Any player who tests positive for THC can be banned from the field. That makes it essential for professional soccer players to use only high-quality CBD products with 0% THC. 

CBD and the NWSL

Women playing in the National Women’s Soccer League are subjected to similar drug policies to those that apply to MLS players. That’s good news for anyone who wants to use CBD. The league has a notably lenient view of cannabis-derived products and does not punish athletes for using CBD for pain management. 

The NWSL has gone one step further in embracing the United States’ changing attitudes toward cannabis. It has opened its door to sponsorships within the cannabis industry. Three of its franchises have already signed on with recognized CBD brands. Many professional athletes use cbd oil in the NWSL who are advocating for CBD and cannabis, more generally.

CBD and the PGA

Professional golfers have been making the switch to natural hemp-based CBD products in droves. The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) has followed WADA’s lead in removing CBD from its banned substances list. Despite this move, the association’s stance isn’t as open-minded as some.

One recent PGA Tour newsletter warned golfers that they must use CBD at their own risk. The newsletter makes a good point, and it’s one that should be heard by all athletes. The FDA doesn’t regulate CBD, which is an herbal supplement. That means it’s up to users to find 100% pure and free products of both contaminants and THC. Using full-spectrum or marijuana-based products can cause athletes, including golfers, to fail drug tests.

What About College Athletes?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) maintains some of the strictest stances on cannabis consumption. It is infamous for its no-tolerance stance on cannabis and has developed a reputation for imposing severe marijuana use penalties. 

The NCAA’s banned drugs list makes no mention of CBD. It does, however, list THC and marijuana as prohibited substances. Since the guidelines also list all cannabinoids and chemically-related substances as banned, it’s safe to assume that CBD use is not acceptable for college athletes. 

Despite the organization’s decision not to mention CBD by name, some college athletes have already been penalized for its use. One young man at Auburn University, CJ Harris, was told he could not play football because he took CBD oil for seizures. Even the FDA has approved prescription CBD for this therapeutic use. It’s difficult to imagine a more black-and-white repudiation of CBD. The NCAA is unable to understand that there is a difference between recreational marijuana and therapeutic hemp products.

Does CBD Affect Exercise?

CBD affects exercise indirectly. It can help to reduce pain and inflammation, leading to speedier muscle recovery. Shorter recovery times after workouts can improve performance, so cbd for working out can be said to support fitness gains.

The Future of CBD in Professional Sports

As popular opinion about cannabis and its derivatives has changed, it’s taken a while for pro sports leagues to catch up. There are now many professional and retired sports players advocating for athletic cbd. It’s likely that someday, all athletes will be able to use this impressive supplement to manage pain and speed recovery.

Matt Carpenter

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