With recreational marijuana now legal in Canada, NHL fans may wonder how legalization will affect the top athletes playing Canada’s national sport. In recent years, the NHL has seldom punished its professional athletes for marijuana use. While the league tests hockey players for a number of drugs, players are rarely disciplined for having marijuana in their systems – instead, the results of testing for amphetamines, cannabinoids, and narcotics are reported to the NHL and research committees without players’ names attached. This data has been used by NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program for decades to determine the status of drug use in the NHL and educate players about drug use.
While all players are tested regularly for performance-enhancing substances, the use of which can result in a ban, only about a third of NHL players are randomly tested for cannabinoid use each year, and this testing is only for research purposes. Following Canada’s legalization of marijuana, Commissioner Gary Bettman said this research and education process will continue, as the league is comfortable in its stance on marijuana use.
However, the NHL warns players that the legalization of marijuana in only some places in North America can create issues for marijuana users. Marijuana cannot be transported legally across the Canada-U.S. border, and players looking to play in the Olympics must keep anti-doping rules in mind. This being said, the NHL’s stance on marijuana use by its players is one of the most progressive in professional sports. The NHL’s marijuana policy is celebrated by a number of NHL players and backed by science. Indeed, using marijuana as a painkiller in a sport as hard-hitting as hockey is a less addictive option than the opiate pain medications many players have been prescribed following injuries and surgeries. A number of NHL players have spoken out about marijuana use in the NHL and their own use of marijuana for pain management.
Derivatives of the marijuana plant, such as cannabidiol, or CBD, are of interest to players looking for the physical effects of pain relief without the psychotropic effects of THC. CBD is available by a number of medicinal brands in Canada, and at least one cannabis-based drug has been approved for medicinal use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Education about CBD and other marijuana-related medications is provided to NHL players regularly, in an effort to help players make sound decisions about their health and wellness. NHL officials are careful to urge caution and lawful behavior by NHL players, as well as highlight opiate addiction, recognized as an epidemic today in much of North America.
Thanks to the NHL’s research-backed strategy, many players are using progressive marijuana-based pain management methods to stay pain-free in a less risky way.