High stakes for the National Hockey League and its marijuana policy

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The National Hockey League (NHL) is not willing to change its marijuana policy, regardless of Canada’s legalization of the drug October 17, 2018.  The league currently bans the use of marijuana, both medically and recreationally, according to si.com.  The NHL’s position is appropriate and apt, as allowing marijuana could put the safety and health of NHL players at risk.

Canada’s new marijuana policy allows anyone 18-years-old and or older to purchase the product, according to nbcnews.com.  This means that any NHL skater on a Canadian team has access to the narcotic.  With seven of its 31 franchises in Canada, the legalization of marijuana could have a significant impact on the league.

The NHL currently has rules and regulations prohibiting the use of performance-enhancing substances, but it is very lenient with its drug-testing policy.  A single positive marijuana test alone does not lead to a suspension, but a player is subject to a 20-game suspension if he has a second positive marijuana test.  If a player has a significant amount of a substance in his body, the team enters him to a behavioral health program, according to usatoday.com.  Instead of creating a more strict policy, which would regulate the actions of all NHL players, NHL commissioner Mr. Gary Bettman wants to focus on educating his players.

Sydney Gallop ’20

“The Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program for decades has been educating players on using drugs, legal or illegal,” Mr. Bettman said, according to cbc.ca.  “But right now, we think, based on the educational level and what we do test for and how we test, at least for the time being, we’re comfortable with where we are.”

Current scientific evidence suggests that cannabis is moderately effective for pain relief.  However, research is not thorough enough to explicitly claim that it completely relieves pain, according to webmd.com.  There are so few studies on marijuana because it is illegal at the federal level.  This prevents federal universities and medical practices from acquiring the drug for scientific experiments.

Although the benefits of marijuana are not completely backed by science, many athletes are willing to test it.  Among them is 22-year-old Mr. Connor McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

“When your body’s sore like it is sometimes, you don’t want to be taking pain stuff and taking Advil all the time,” Mr. McDavid said, according to espn.com.  “There’s obviously better ways to do it.  You’d be stupid not to at least look into it.”

Results do prove that marijuana is a highly addictive drug.  Recent data shows that 30 percent of marijuana users have some degree of marijuana use disorder or addiction, according to drugabuse.gov.  No matter how it is inhaled or for what purposes, marijuana’s main compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is a psychoactive drug that alters perception, according to addictioncenter.com.   Additionally, those who use marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana addiction than adults.

Former Canadian NHL player Mr. Riley Cote was an early advocate for athletes’ marijuana use.  Mr. Cote played eight seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, skating in at least 82 games during the regular season, which lasts from October to April.  After relying on Advil and other remedies, including alcohol, Mr. Cote discovered marijuana as a new outlet to relieve pain.
“I started noticing some therapeutic benefits,” Mr. Cote said, according to espn.com.  “It helped me sleep, helped with my anxiety and general well-being.”

Former NHL player Mr. Riley Cote advocates for the use of medical marijuana to remedy injuries a hockey player may sustain during his career.  Courtesy of sportsnet.ca

Although Mr. Cote personally saw positive benefits of medical marijuana, limited research shows many drawbacks to using the product.  Mr. Cote did not clarify how he consumed marijuana, but even just short-term use of the narcotic can lead to impaired short-term memory, impaired motor coordination, altered judgment, and many other negative consequences, according to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Even with one use and a decrease in pain, marijuana can be harmful to the physical and mental status of a human.  The NHL needs to continue to enforce their policies against marijuana use in order to uphold Mr. Bettman’s goal to educate players about substance abuse, but more importantly to keep the league and its players in a healthy and safe condition.  As the NHL gets younger each year, the league would be taking too great a chance to allow their players to use marijuana to treat their injuries.

Featured Image by Sydney Gallop ’20