The relationship between professional athletes and cannabis use has evolved in recent years. Most leagues, aside from the NHL, still test and punish players for cannabis use. However, they no longer handout career-altering suspensions for a positive test. This signals a change in perspective that cannabis use isn’t the worst thing in the world for pro athletes.

In fact, there are a number of reasons why it makes sense for athletes to use cannabis, albeit at the right time and with the right dose. Some former NFL players have even admitted to using cannabis before games to help ease the pain of getting hit play after play. For many players, using cannabis to manage pain is a preferable option to other types of painkillers that can damage the liver or kidneys with long-term use. Athletes have also been known to use cannabis to help ease pre-game tension and anxiety when their nerves start to get the better of them before a big game or match.

These are just some of the reasons why athletes use cannabis to help them compete or recover. In this sense, they’re using more for medicinal reasons than recreational ones. As more athletes come forward about their use of cannabis, the tie between sports and medical cannabis strengthens. Here are a few of the athletes who have done the most to advocate for medical cannabis and helped changed the way we view its relationship with professional sports.

Ricky Williams

Williams was one of the leading pioneers of cannabis among pro athletes, in part because he kept getting suspended for testing positive. When he retired from the NFL for good, he went back to school to study new-age medicine so he could learn more about cannabis and its impact on the body. He remains an outspoken advocate of medical cannabis. In March 2018, Williams announced that he was starting a business selling “herbal-based wellness products”.

Cliff Robinson

Robinson played 19 seasons in the NBA, during which he was suspended multiple times for violating the league’s drug policy. However, he has been forthright about using cannabis during his pro basketball career to help with pain and anxiety. In fact, Robinson says his cannabis use is part of the reason why he was able to play in the NBA for nearly 20 years. Since retiring, Robinson has created a brand of marijuana-based products called Uncle Cliffy that are specifically geared toward athletes.

Eugene Monroe

Monroe cut his NFL career short over concerns for his health and his unwillingness to take opioids to stay in the league. He has publicly encouraged the NFL to allow players to use medical cannabis as an alternative to traditional painkillers. In fact, his cannabis advocacy may have been a factor in getting released by the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, move that essentially ended his career. But that did not deter him in any way. After being released, Monroe made a statement that noted: “I will never stop pushing for the League to accept medical cannabis as a viable option for pain management.”

With recreational cannabis legalization on the horizon for Canada, it will be interesting to see how, or if, Canadian sports leagues will adapt their cannabis use rules to the new laws.