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Matt Barnes: Half the NBA has gone through a league-mandated drug program for cannabis use



“It’s anyone from our super, super, superstars to rookies and everyone in between.”


Matt Barnes was the most recent guest on The Ringer‘s podcast Winging it with Vince Carter and he had a lot to say about cannabis use in the NBA, including that half the league has gone through an NBA-mandated drug treatment program for cannabis use.

Barnes, who played 15 seasons in the league, says that after he tested positive for cannabis and completed the drug program a few times he became friends with the people running it, who revealed how busy they had been.

“They said over 200-plus players were in the drug program, particularly for weed. That’s half the NBA, which to me is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “It’s anyone from our super, super, superstars to rookies and everyone in between.”

Though the NBA didn’t test players in the bubble this past season, there are usually a few random tests administered a year. Players who test positive need to enter a substance abuse program after their first violation. A second positive test leads to a $25,000 fine and a third test positive results in a 5-game suspension.

Barnes, who says he smoked weed throughout his entire career, got caught twice.

“You get three strikes and you’re suspended,” he said. “I got like 2.75, they let me admit myself a couple of times voluntarily.”

Barnes said he used cannabis for pain management and to relax after games. Pain killers upset his stomach and he found cannabis to be an effective therapy. But it wasn’t easy.

“It was a full-time job using cannabis throughout my career, I just always had to be ready to try and beat these tests,” he said, noting that he once passed a test by using Niacin, a form of vitamin B3, to flush his system.

Niacin is believed to boost metabolism and ihbit fat production and be useful for flushing your system but there’s no medical literature that supports this claim or recommendations for safe dosages, according to research published in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives.

“It just kind of feels like it’s burning your skin from the inside out, it’s fucking horrible, but it flushed my system,” Barnes said. “No bullshit, it was really a full-time job to smoke while I was in the league. I had to eat clean, work out after a game, get in the steam room, always having my detox drink with me, just always on standby because in the NBA it’s random.”

Since retiring in 2017, Barnes has become an outspoken cannabis advocate, including hosting his own podcast All the Smoke, where he frequently discusses cannabis use in sports.

“I think I speak for a lot of guys who are currently playing and have left the game that this is definitely a medicine that can be utilized to benefit the players,” he said. “Cannabis is something that is on the rise. I’m glad that there is medical research behind it because I’ve been saying this shit for a long time and I’ve just been labelled as a stoner or smoker or whatever but now that there are actually universities behind it doing medical research I’m really proud of where cannabis is and I’m hoping it continues to raise awareness and work its way into the NBA.”

Barnes predicts that the league will allow CBD use within the next year and within two to three years players will be allowed to be prescribed medical cannabis for sleep, focus, and pain. “For all the reasons they give us opioids, they can prescribe us cannabis,” he said.

“Half the league was in that program just for cannabis alone, and you want to penalize us for something that’s actually helping us and keeping us relaxed and focused? That’s crazy to me.”

You can listen to the full episode here.

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Sam Riches

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