Athletes can still be banned for using cannabis, but industry heavyweights are finding other ways to work their way into the lucrative U.S. sports landscape.
CBD brands have partnered with a handful of professional golfers and stock car racers in recent months to advertise the healing power of cannabis front-and-center for millions of regular TV and in-person viewers. Not coincidentally, the major leagues of both sports have mostly embraced the ads and allowed athletes to use CBD products as long as they comply with federal law requiring less than 0.3 percent THC content.
The tricky part? Incorrectly labeled products, even if purchased legally, can still land players suspensions if doping tests find too much THC in their blood. And it’s happened to at least a pair of golfers: Robert Garrigus and Matt Every have both had to sit out for months at a time for using cannabis.
The U.S. Golf Association’s Anti-Doping Manual says marijuana “goes against the spirit of our sport,” and PGA anti-doping czar Andy Levinson has warned players to use caution when using CBD.
“If a player decides to use a CBD product, they assume the risk that it could have more THC in it than its labeling claims,” Levinson said. “As a result, that mistake could increase their chance of a positive test for THC.”
Professional golfer Bubba Watson, a two-time champion of golf’s Masters Tournament, has worn cbdMD’s logo this year on the side of his hat. The publicly traded company markets hemp-based CBD gummies, oils, pet products, topicals, and tinctures, among other goodies, and Watson professes to personally feeling less anxiety and pain when using CBD.
Fellow golfer Billy Horschel used CBD to break a near three-year winless streak on the PGA Tour that began in April 2018 and ended with a victory in March of this year. Horschel said the plant allows him to unwind after competition and has improved his ability to sleep. Horschel personally invested in Boston-based CBD producer Beam.
The same company also considers former IndyCar and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick a brand ambassador. Patrick, the most successful female driver in the sport’s history, told USA Today the popular cannabinoid helps her “feel my best mentally and physically.”
Though the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its list of banned substances in 2018, momentum for the plant had picked up somewhat slowly before 2021. The biggest forward step came this summer when NASCAR became the first sports league to allow a CBD company to sponsor an entire event.
Pennsylvania-based Pocono Organics sponsored the Pocono Organics CBD 325 back in June, even though TV broadcasters and the local raceway only referred to the event as the PoconoOrganics.com 325 to viewers.
NASCAR and the tracks around the U.S. in which it conducts its events are showing more leniency to sponsors across a variety of industries after the pandemic left the sport hurting for cash. For CBD companies, such changes represent giant opportunities to increase visibility.