Suddenly, the pro sports world is gaga over CBD products.
As the marijuana legal landscape in America has rapidly changed on a state-by-state basis, companies big and small are in a frenzy to launch products with cannabidiol (a cannabis extract that does not contain THC), from supplements to pain relief rubs to gummy bears to dog treats to bath oils.
Those companies are eager to make sponsorship deals, and they’re finding those opportunities in the sports world.
Aurora Cannabis signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar partnership with the UFC. Canopy Growth teamed up with the NHL Alumni Association for a cannabis research trial.
North Carolina holding company Level Brands acquired CBD brand CBDMD last year, then in May changed its company name to CBDMD and its stock ticker to YCBD, and has since signed endorsement deals with pro golfer Bubba Watson, Bellator fighter Rampage Jackson, and Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league.
Boxing legend Mike Tyson launched a cannabis line. NFL alum Ricky Williams launched a CBD product line. And Lamar Odom, the former NBA star and ex-husband of Khloe Kardashian, has his own brand of CBD products called Odom 7.
“CBD is a miracle drug, and it's a drug I'm proud to say I partake in every day,” Odom told Yahoo Finance in an extensive interview this week for the release of his revealing new memoir. “It helps me with my anxiety, anxiety for me was big because it led to poor decision-making. So for me to be able to curb that is important. Any kind of ailment you may have, whether it's dry skin, to a scrape, to a cut, any inflammation in your body, your joints, your bones, take a drop, put it on, it heals right up.”
MMA fighter Rampage Jackson praises the health benefits of CBD just as forcefully. “It works, and it changed my life,” he told Yahoo Finance in May. “When I knew CBD works is when I had problems with my elbow... all the years of fighting, I couldn’t really do push-ups, and whenever I lifted weights, it was big pain. Then I started taking CBDMD, and after a week I noticed less pain, and I could do a full push-up... I take my CBD supplements every day. I do the bath bombs, the creams, I do it all. I was skeptical at first, but it works.”
Drug-test approved — by some sports leagues
These over-the-top raves from athletes about the new “miracle drug” become hard to take seriously.
But golfer Bubba Watson says another reason CBD is so appealing to pro athletes is as an approved alternative to banned substances. Watson signed an endorsement deal with CBDMD even though the PGA Tour sent a notice to golfers in April warning them that CBD products “have limited government regulation and may contain THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis that is prohibited.” The PGA Tour does not prohibit CBD, but does suspend players for using marijuana.
“CBDMD, I’ve seen their facility, I’ve seen that [CBD is] all they make in that facility, so there’s no contamination,” Watson told Yahoo Finance in May. “So for me it looked the safest. As an athlete who gets drug-tested, I was looking for a safe brand. And they have ex-athletes on their staff, so they’re trying to make the safest, purest product, where there’s no contamination, no drug-test fails. So that was big for me.”
Last year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) expressly removed CBD from its list of banned substances. The NFL still prohibits players from using any marijuana-derived products, but many NFL veterans are pushing for change. Most other leagues and sports bodies appear friendly, or at least not overtly unfriendly, to CBD.
Consumer confusion about CBD lingers
Of course, one criticism of the entire CBD industry has been the lack of clear product labeling, commonly blamed on the lack of industry regulation. Many consumers are confused about exactly what effect a CBD product will have on their bodies.
Jackson thinks that will get better with time.
“I think people should educate themselves, because whenever they hear anything about CBD they think of marijuana, and they think they’re going to get high,” Jackson says. “Anything new, a lot of people are scared about it, but as time goes on, people are going to learn about it and it’s going to blow up.”
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.