With the shifting conversations regarding marijuana as pain management tool in professional sports leagues, you may wonder why the National Hockey League is never included in such dialogues. The answer is simple: the NHL doesn’t consider cannabis a performance-enhancing drug and does include it on its banned substances list.
The league, however, doesn’t necessarily approve cannabis usage. Marijuana does get tested under the leagues, Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, but positive tests aren’t distributed to the public. Only performance-enhancing drugs are immediately released to the public.
In many eyes, the NHL’s “blind-eye” approach to cannabis usage is more progressive than other leagues. As one hockey enforcer recently relayed to Sportsnet, that policy has allowed for the extension of some players’ careers.
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“I’d quietly use it as an ally of mine. It helped me manage anxiety [and] pain,” former Philadelphia Flyer Riley Cote said. “There was no physical addiction. It just made me feel better.”
Since retiring from the league in 2010, Cote has gone on to Athletes for Care, which is a non-profit that promote holistic wellness and healing for athletes both retired and currently playing. Cote says he not alone in his usage of cannabis to deal with the stress and pain athletes endure.
“Good people break bad laws, I guess,” Cote said. “At least half of those guys [I competed with and against] consumed, and a fraction of those guys consumed regularly. Like, every day…. And that number is probably higher.”
While NHL players who test positive for street drugs like cocaine or Adderall will enter the league’s substance abuse program, Cote told Sportsnet that a positive test for THC “will only receive a call.”
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He hopes moving forward that instead of even testing for marijuana, the NHL will fully embrace the drug as an alternative medicine for athletes. In an era when former NBA commissioner David Stern, a notoriously harsh marijuana critic, has reversed course and advocated for cannabis usage in sports, it isn’t so far-fetched.
“We’re not selling the silver-bullet, magical cure for all,” Cote said. “[Cannabis] is a tool and it needs to be treated with respect…. It’s all about increasing quality of life. It’s about helping these guys wake up the next morning, where they can feel functional enough, good enough, [that] they can enjoy their family and not worry about the pain and anxiety — that vicious cycle that generally leads to mental health issues.”