The balance between health and performance will always be a challenge for athletes at every level of competition. Athletes are constantly under pressure from coaches, fans, and organizational members to be in peak condition at all times. Many athletes turn to performance-enhancing drugs as a way to live up to these expectations. However, the long-term health implications of using common anabolic steroids like trenbolone, dianabol, and anadrol can be severe. Athletes who use these drugs to gain a competitive advantage often risk side effects that include kidney failure, liver damage, enlarged heart, and an increased risk of blood clots. Furthermore, if caught, the brand of the athlete will be effectively ruined as relationships with sponsors will be destroyed and the opinions from fans will turn sour. Fortunately, a trending health product presents athletes with an alternative to harmful steroids: CBD.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is an active ingredient found in the cannabis plant that has recently been touted for its medicinal properties. Reduced muscle soreness/overall pain, stress and anxiety levels, and improved sleep quality are some of the benefits that athletes seek out the most from CBD products. Commonly manufactured into an oil product, CBD has reached mainstream distribution channels and can even be found as an add-in booster to coffee and protein powder products. Because CBD is derived from the same source as THC, the compound in cannabis plants that elicits the “high” sensation, there has been some hesitancy from professional sports leagues to legalize CBD. The NFL recently had discussions about allowing players to use CBD but are waiting for more studies to be released about its effects on athletic performance before they make any concrete decisions (Supa Naturals). The NBA, which has long been heralded as the most progressive league in American sports, also continues to list CBD as a banned substance (Supa Naturals). These bans are in place despite 82% of NFL and NBA teams playing in cities where marijuana, not just CBD, is either recreationally or medically legal (Supa Naturals). That being said, the World Anti-Doping Agency permits the use of pure CBD isolates and the MLB regulates the substance the same way they do with alcohol (Supa Naturals). There is an expectation that the current pushes by player associations regarding the legalization of CBD products, will be successful in the next few years.
Should CBD reach widespread legalization across American sports leagues, the potential business opportunities for athletes in this space are limitless. Estimates on the current valuation of the CBD industry vary, but it is expected to crack $50 billion by 2027. This is largely due to growing awareness from consumers about the positive health effects of CBD in addition to the increased legalization of marijuana and cannabis-related products (SportsProMedia). Furthermore, pharmaceutical retail giants like CVS and Walgreens have recognized this emerging industry and are stocking their shelves with CBD products (SportsProMedia). Athletes at every level of competition can benefit from CBD and the substance is now being touted as a lifestyle product that everyone should use. With roughly 1,500 brands jostling for a share of the market, the chance for partnership deals to be struck with athletes rising as well (SportsProMedia).
Rob Gronkowski is a perfect example of an athlete who reaped both the financial and medical benefits of CBD. After a successful, but injury-riddled, nine-year NFL career with the New England Patriots, Gronkowski hung up his helmet in 2019 and walked away from the game at the peak of his career. Citing chronic back issues as the main reason for his retirement, Gronkowski eventually found relief from a CBDMedic topical cream after the product was recommended to him by his father (Business Wire). After a few months of using the product, Gronkowski landed a partnership deal with Abacus Health Products — the company behind CBDMedic. This came at the same time that Gronkowski announced his return to professional football with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Because the NFL still has a ban on CBD products, the activation strategy of Gronkowski’s partnership with Abacus is largely advocacy for the product through speaking events rather than the typical Instagram feed posts of athletes using sponsored products (Business Wire). Gronkowski’s story of returning to the NFL because of CBD is inspiring and hopefully, in the future, it will be part of the reason why professional sports leagues lift their needless bans on CBD products.
Overall, despite a limited amount of sporting-specific scientific research into the effectiveness of CBD, there is enough data out there that proves it can help manage chronic pain and help in recovery efforts (SportsProMedia). If leagues were to allow their players to use CBD products, there would likely be a downtick in PED and opioid usage as players would not have to turn to more dangerous methods of extending and enhancing their careers anymore (SportsProMedia). Moreover, athletes would gain access to an entirely new sponsorship category that could supplement their income while improving their overall health. If athletes cannot use CBD products without being suspended or fined by their respective leagues, it would make partnerships difficult. Rob Gronkowski is a special example as he retired, partnered with a CBD company, and then unretired while still promoting the product. As more information comes out about the advantages of CBD, professional sports leagues will hopefully see that the quality of their sports will be improved by lifting bans on CBD products.