Should Cannabis be on the NBA’s List of Banned Substances?

As the legalization of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use becomes the norm in states across the nation, there are concerns about what this means in the sports arena. Before 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency didn’t exist. There were obvious restrictions to using certain drugs and participating in sports, but they were not well defined. Athletes had to live with the general institution that all drugs were bad. 

Currently, the attitudes have not changed entirely. Athletes cannot buy their Horchata weed strain at AskGrowers and proceed to run their marathons. Though leagues like the National Hockey League do not have strict testing measures, others conduct regular drug tests for weed and other cannabinoids. In analyzing whether cannabis should be used in sports or not, it is important to ask, what effect does marijuana have on athletes? 

Marijuana Status on the World Anti-Doping Agency

As mentioned, WADA was brought into the picture around 1999. Before the same, any positive drug tests resulted in athletes being suspended from their games and even their wins revoked. For instance, in 1998, Ross Rebagliati, who had won a gold medal for Canada, had his win revoked. His test revealed trace amounts of weed. 

The institution of WADA operates on three basic principles. For a drug to be added to the prohibited list, it has to match three criteria. The first is that it poses a health risk to the athletes. The second is that it has the potential to serve as a performance-enhancing drug, and lastly, if it violates the spirit of sport. 

In a paper published in 2011, WADA offered supporting arguments for why they have weed on the prohibited drug list. For the first criterion, they provided that stoners who double as athletes risk their own lives and that of others. Their main reasons were that these high athletes have slower reaction times and increased risk-taking, not forgetting impaired executive functions. 

On the second criterion, they argued that certain activities within sports competitions could be enhanced by taking cannabis. Lastly, in the spirit of sports, they felt that marijuana users who are athletes are not good role models for younger people. 

Cannabis is currently a prohibited drug on the WADA list. Due to newly found research, CBD as a drug component was removed from the prohibited list. Athletes in whichever league and sport can take CBD in varying amounts without risking suspension from their sport. Regardless of CBD’s status on the WADA list, weed is still on the list meaning that players found with other cannabinoid components will experience the consequences. 

Is Cannabis a Performance Enhancing Drug?

Does marijuana have performance-enhancing properties? This is one of the fundamental questions that researchers are aiming to answer. Regarding the effects of the drug, its recreational and medicinal benefits are well known. On the one hand, there is the body of recreational effects. Most stoners report using it to enjoy effects such as the sought-after head high, the boost in moods, and even a reduction of anxiety. 

On the other hand, there is a range of medicinal effects. Among medical circles, cannabis is efficient at reducing chronic pain, slowing the growth of certain cancer cells, and even improving the symptoms of specific mental disorders.

Though marijuana has been found to bring about behavioral changes, there is no clear link to it inducing performance-enhancing results. Athletes who smoke do report feeling relaxed and not crippled by anxiety. Also, they state that sometimes they have increased focus and can be easily distracted at other times. 

From such assertions, the main takeaway is that weed doesn’t necessarily enhance performance. What it does is it heightens the sensory perception of the individual. These effects do not constitute enough points to argue that cannabis enhances performance. Also, with its increased use and the rejection of negative stereotypes, it is clear that marijuana doesn’t meet all the criteria for being on the prohibited list. 

As far as the NBA is concerned, it’s an open secret that a lot of players partake in marijuana. Approximately 85% of Al Harrington’s NBA friends. Even though cannabis is officially prohibited in the rules of the NBA, the league has been softening their stance on it saying recently that the body will no longer randomly test players for marijuana (but will continue randomly testing for other restricted substances).

In the history of the league, approximately 30 players have been banned for illegal substances including marijuana. An official change to those rules would see a huge change in the attitudes and enforcement of cannabis.

How Long Can Weed be Detected in the Body

When discussing whether athletes are allowed to use weed or not, it may also be helpful to consider how long it stays in the body. Marijuana, upon ingestion, interacts with various parts of the body. The three main body components that are used in testing include saliva, blood, and urine. Other components, such as the hair, can be tested, but the three are the main ones. 

So, how long does cannabis stay in your system? Depending on several aspects, such as frequency of use, BMI, and others, marijuana use can be detected from 0-30 days. Another strong determinant is the mode of testing.

For blood, the detection can take between 24 and 48 hours from the last use. With saliva, it is between 24 and 72 hours from the last use. Urine detection can be between 3 to 30 days. The difference is in line with the frequency of use. Stoners who use the drug chronically will have the weed in their body for up to 30 days.


The WADA takes athletics very seriously. This is why any indication of drug use among athletes is highly frowned upon. With their criteria for prohibited drugs, it is a wonder why marijuana is on the list. Though it has psychoactive properties, weed does not bring about a boost of energy and skills that would result in better performance. Since CBD has been removed from the list, more research could result in players being allowed to use the drug without dire consequences. Before then, it may be helpful to learn which leagues allow marijuana use and which do not. 


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