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With so many states jumping on the bandwagon to legalize marijuana, some sports fans are left to wonder what this means to their favorite athletes. Sometimes we get asked if National Football League players can smoke weed, and we thought it is time to find out for ourselves.
As of March 2020, NFL players are allowed to smoke (or otherwise ingest) marijuana from April 20 to Aug. 9 each year. That is, during that period players are not tested for the main chemical responsible for cognitive impairment, Delta 9 THC-carboxylic acid.
This regulation change was part of the agreement between the players and owners that dictate the terms of service for the players with their teams and the league, called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The new CBA dictates that once training camps begin operations in August, players will indeed be tested for THC, but the threshold for triggering consequences was made harder to reach.
That is, players during the season can have 4 times more THC in their system than before, for the test to be deemed positive.
The threshold used to be only 35 nanograms. So NFL players now can smoke weed during what essentially is a grace period from late April to early August, and even after can smoke some marijuana without punitive action. (See below for how long it takes a body to rid 35 nanograms from your system).
The new CBA did not change how testing of players would work, but, once again, these tests will not try to detect the main intoxicating chemical.
During the regular season, 10 players are selected randomly each week for drug tests. In the off-season, including during the April-August grace period, players will be tested once. However, these tests will not look for the THC chemical.
The biggest change to the NFL’s drug testing program is how the league views marijuana and opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine.
These are now deemed “Substances of Abuse,” and not the previous label of performance-enhancing drugs. Now, players testing positive for substances of abuse can enter and complete a treatment program, and not face suspension. Some players just get fined.
Yes. In fact, according to retired participants, NFL players have smoked or otherwise ingested marijuana for a long time. And in more recent years, a lot of them do it.
According to a recently retired tight end in 2018, an estimated 89% of NFL players use weed.
In recent years, more NFL players have come forward with their marijuana use. Some even admitted to being high during games.
Players in the NFL, and in other athletes in leagues that allow it, use marijuana much for the same reasons non-athletes use it. The drug can ease pain, help manage anxiety, and boost your appetite, all things attractive to players in a sport where crashing into each other and onto the ground is routine.
Besides being a painful sport to play, football play causes stress. Players always have to learn to deal with failure, and criticism from fans and the media, or with losing streaks. Players can get anxious before big games, or before games against a particularly nasty opponent (like Von Miller).
Marijuana has been legal for medicinal purposes in many states for a long time, to ease nausea from chemotherapy, for instance, or boost the appetite of a person suffering from a serious disease.
Using weed for any purpose is legal now in 11 states for adults older than 21; and over 30 states have approved use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Today’s rather lax regulations on weed use are in stark contrast to its past. Historically, pretty much since marijuana use became mainstream in the 1960s, the NFL rules on player weed use were very strict.
In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that some NFL players quit the game so they would not be bothered about their weed use. Former All-Pro running back Ricky Williams is probably the most notable case.
Williams was a superstar in college at the University of Texas, and it took a few seasons but eventually he became a star in the NFL. However, he never ended his love affair with weed, and because of that faced significant suspensions for failed marijuana drug tests ~ including for the entire 2006 season.
Williams eventually quit, and pursued a new career as a weed advocate, eventually opening the first legal gym-allowing-weed-use in San Francisco.
As recently as 2016, NFL players have been suspended for entire seasons for weed use. Notable players known to use weed in recent years include wide receivers Randy Moss and Percy Harvin, and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.
Star defensive end Randy Gregory, now with the Denver Broncos, failed about 100 NFL drug tests (which he says were all for marijuana) during his first few years in the league with the Dallas Cowboys.
He played only the first 2 games of the 2017 season, and missed the entire 2019 campaign.
Marijuana Testing Levels for NFL Compared with Working World
The level of THC in an NFL player’s system must be below 150 nanograms during the single test they will endure from training camp-on. But the level used to be a lot less, at the 35 nanograms cutoff still in effect for NBA players.
How much is 150 nanograms? A lot more than regular folks applying for jobs can have in their system. The pre-employment threshold for most jobs in the United States is 50 ng/ml.
Some companies are more strict and allow only 15 ng/ml, while others might allow up to 100 ng/ml
The most common drug cut off level for urine tests is 50 ng/ml. However, in some cases, this cut-off can be as high as 100 ng/ml and as low as 15 ng/ml.
Experts say it takes smoking a quarter or third of a single joint to reach the 50 ng/ml level. A study in 2017 determined that it takes almost 3 days for 27 mg of THC to dip below the 50 ng/ml threshold.
How long THC stays in a person’s system depends on a number of factors, including:
- Usage frequency and volume of use
- Age, lifestyle, and especially, weight (See below)
- Level of hydration
- Potency of the weed used
Weight is important in eliminating traces of weed from your system because THC sticks to fat cells in the human body. That’s not the scientific term, but a layman’s explanation. Those with a lot more fat on their body will have a tougher time ridding the THC.
An occasional weed user can find his or her body cleared of THC in a day and a half. For heavy marijuana users, it could take up to a week.
More states are considering legalizing marijuana entirely, and in fact a growing number of national politicians are advocating for it, including Vice President Kamala Harris in 2022.
The use of marijuana and all other drugs considered with potential to abuse will always be set in negotiations for each collective bargaining agreement. This is basically a contract that can include anything. The chances that the NFL might revert back to its formerly strict weed use rules is very slim.
The players just wouldn’t put up with it. More and more pro athletes today are advocating for allowable use of weed, including many in the National Football League.
In fact, in early 2022 the League awarded $1 million in grants to study marijuana pain management for NFL players. (Another study will look into additional concussion protection measures for players).
League officials and player union representatives agreed to explore the therapeutic value of using what are called cannabinoids (marijuana) to address paid, especially as an alternative to using painkillers containing opioids.
Opioids are drugs derived from the opium flower and are highly physically addicting. Marijuana while not physically addictive has been deemed by some to be mentally addictive for some users.
Question: Can NBA players smoke weed?
Answer: Yes, in practice. National Basketball Association rules forbid any amount more than 35 nanograms of THC (compared with the 150-nanogram level now in the NFL and even NCAA). However, the NBA does not test for THC. Believe it or not, the league and players association agreed not to do random testing for marijuana starting with the 2020-21 season. However, marijuana remains on the list of prohibited substances (along with 224 others) outlined in the NBA-NBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement.[LINK https://www.nbpa.com/cba ]
Q.: How much can professional athletes smoke and get away with it?
A: As much as they want if the league does not test for it. At the toughest threshold, of 35 nanograms of marijuana metabolites, if a person smokes weed, it takes approximately 48 hours for that amount of the chemicals to leave the body.
Q.: Was Ricky Williams good?
A.: He rushed for more than 10,000 yards in his career, and scored 66 touchdowns total. He was at least above average, and for at least a single season he was a bonafide star. Williams was so good in college, in fact, that the head coach for the New Orleans Saints, Mike Ditka, agreed to trade all of the club’s draft picks one year to acquire the first pick to nab Williams. (Williams never reached stardom in New Orleans; he began to blossom after leaving the Crescent City.