Power Forward: NBA Could Be First League to Allow Athletes to Medicate With Marijuana

After Matt Barnes told the world in May 2018 that he smoked a joint before taking to the court for the Golden State Warriors, cannabis use among the National Basketball Association (NBA) has gotten almost as much attention as this year’s playoffs. OK, maybe not that much.

“All my best games I was medicated,” Barnes said in one of a series of Bleacher Report roundtable discussions about cannabis and sports, convened in April, 2018.

Retired NBA forward Kenyon Martin was one of 11 NBA and NFL athletes interviewed in the report. Martin estimated that up 85 percent of the NBA smoked cannabis during his 15-season career. “It was a lot. It was people who you wouldn’t think.”

Naturally, most NBA cannabis-consuming players wait until after they’re retired before announcing their own or others’ propensity for the flower.

Players say they started using cannabis to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation and to relax, which is where cannabis and sports intersect.

In the case of basketball, which is on the minds of many fans as the Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals, they can only imagine the chronic knee and joint pain players likely endure after the grueling 82-game season.

“There’s no question the medicinal use of CBD and THC in the right ways can greatly benefit NBA athletes with controlling pain, inflammation, and sleep benefits,” said Dr. Christian Lé, a Portland, Oregon-based physician and founder of Green Earth Medicine, a cannabis and holistic health clinic. “What’s even more important is that cannabinoid medicines are extremely safe compared to the more toxic side effects of pharmaceutical drugs such as opiates and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen).”

Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr, a former NBA player himself, has said he hoped the NBA and other professional sports leagues would soften their stances on cannabis.


“I do feel strongly that [marijuana]is a much better option than some of the prescription drugs, and I know that it’s helping a lot of people, which is great,” Kerr told the San Francisco Chronicle shortly after California legalized recreational marijuana in January 2018.

Kerr said that he considers medical cannabis a better option than opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin.

“The stuff is dangerous … the addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long-term health risks,” he told the Chronicle “The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.”

A survey of retired NFL players in 2010, published in July 2011 in the Elsevier journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, has shown that the rate of opioid use among retired NFL players is three times higher than that of the general population.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, told basketball news site Slam Online in August 2017  that if the science checks out, the league is open to legalization of medical cannabis. David Stern, NBA commissioner from 1984 to 2014, also wants the league to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances.

“I think there is universal agreement that marijuana for medical purposes should be completely legal,” Stern said on the digital sports show, Uninterrupted, in a conversation October with former NBA player Al Harrington.

“Medicinal cannabis will greatly benefit professional and amateur athletes in addressing their health needs,” Lé said. “And importantly, using medicinal cannabis doesn’t require athletes being ‘stoned’ to get these medical benefits. This is a win-win possibility for athletes.”

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