How Cannabis Changed Mike Tyson’s Life

Tyson Ranch broke ground in 2017 in the middle of the California desert. It was good timing.  Proposition 64 had freshly legalized cannabis for recreational use in the state. When Tyson is being asked about his corporate vision or business savvy, he inevitably gets personal. He describes marijuana as medicine that has put his life […]

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NBA Won’t Randomly Test Athletes for Cannabis During 75th Season

The National Basketball Association (NBA) recently released a memo stating that it won’t be testing its athletes for cannabis for the entirety of the upcoming season.

The NBA Spokesman Mike Bass announced on October 6 that cannabis testing athletes will not occur for the rest of the association’s 75th season, which begins on October 19 and runs through May 2022

“We have agreed with the NBPA to extend the suspension of random testing for marijuana for the 2021-22 season and focus our random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse,” Bass stated.

NBA players were given a memo about the news, but ESPN was the first to obtain the memo and report the information, as of a statement from ESPN Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski. 

“Players won’t be subject to random tests for marijuana this season,” according to @NBPA memo shared with players and obtained by ESPN. That’s been adjusted policy through Orlando restart and 2020-‘21 season. Testing continues for “drugs of abuse and performance enhancing substances,” he shared on Twitter.

The NBA first announced that it would suspend random drug tests for cannabis in March 2020, back when the pandemic was ramping up. According to the Associated Press, testing resumed later in summer 2020 at the Orlando Bubble to check for performance-enhancing substances—but cannabis wasn’t among the substances athletes were tested for, mainly in an effort to reduce unnecessary contact for players. 

Reporter Ben Dowsett was among the first to confirm this change through league sources later last year, which he shared in a Twitter post in December 2020. 

“Sources say this decision is largely based on COVID safety–just another way of limiting unnecessary contacts. However, there’s also significant expectation from many in the league that the entire marijuana testing program is on the way out in the near future.”

It is still a possibility that the NBA could eventually decide to end testing for cannabis permanently, although no official announcement has been made. Cannabis wasn’t included on the list of testable substances in the last NBA season, and now it is confirmed that cannabis will again not be tested for by athletes in this current season as well.

There are many factors that can be attributed to the NBA agreeing to halt cannabis testing for athletes, but one of the reasons is because of athletes speaking out in favor of cannabis and its efficacy as a medicine. Countless athletes have spoken up, and many of them have started their own cannabis businesses, such as former NBA athlete Chris Webber. His company, Players Only Holdings, recently broke ground on a $50 million production and training facility in Detroit Michigan. Another former NBA player, Kevin Durant, used his company Thirty Five Ventures to partner with Weedmaps in an effort to fight the stigma against cannabis.

The news of running athlete Sha’Carri Richardson testing positive for cannabis, resulting in her disqualification in the Tokyo Olympics, made global headlines as well. The outroar garnered intense support for her situation from many sources, including the White House and U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as well as U.S. state legislators

Tennessee Congressman Steven Cohen joked that cannabis is a performance-enhancing substance in only one case. “Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July,” Cohen said in July.

Other sports organizations have also begun to loosen restrictions on cannabis consumption. In April, the National Football League announced that it would no longer test for cannabis during the offseason. In December 2019, the Major League Baseball association announced that it would remove cannabis from its list of abused drugs and would only continue to test athletes for opioids and cocaine.

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NBA Icon Chris Webber Unveils Detroit Cannabis Facility

NBA Hall of Famer and entrepreneur Chris Webber on Tuesday broke ground on Players Only Holdings, a $50 million cannabis production and training facility in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Once completed, the new facility sitting on nine acres near the Detroit River is expected to create hundreds of jobs over the next three years.

Co-founded by Webber with fellow entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, Players Only is a Black-owned business focused on cannabis cultivation, real estate development, brand partnerships and creative content development and management. The 180,000 square foot Players Only facility, dubbed the Webber Wellness Compound, will include a 60,000-square-foot cannabis cultivation operation, an 8,000-square-foot cannabis dispensary and a private consumption lounge. 

At Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Webber announced the creation of a distribution partnership for Players Only branded products with Gage Growth Corp., a leading, Michigan-licensed cannabis operator headed by CEO Fabian Monaco.

“This will be the shining jewel of Michigan. Everything great in Michigan starts in Detroit, and I am excited to collaborate with Gage to bring our premium line of Players Only products to this community,” former Detroit Piston star Webber said in a statement from Players Only. “Gage is the HOF of cannabis operations. With Fabian Monaco as a teammate, this relationship is a winner on every level.”

Courtesy of Players Only Holdings

Cookies U Comes To Michigan

Webber also took the opportunity to reveal the Detroit expansion of cannabis training program Cookies U, founded by rapper and cannabis mogul Berner in partnership with The WebberWildWillis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on uplifting and enriching Black and Brown communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. In a statement, Berner characterized the state of Michigan as “one of the most important markets in the cannabis industry.”

Courtesy of Players Only Holdings

“Detroit is the first city we opened a flagship store in, outside of California. I have to salute Chris Webber, Jason Wild and Lavetta Willis for supporting our vision to build out Cookies U in Humboldt California and extending the program to Detroit, which happens to be Chris’s hometown,” said Berner, co-founder and CEO of Cookies. “Michigan has always been an advanced and educated market, and we couldn’t be more excited to offer underrepresented people an opportunity to learn the industry from seed to sale.”

Cookies U is a hands-on, fee-free training program that will recruit students from underserved communities and prepare them for jobs in the cannabis industry, including access to a GED program with a financial literacy component. In addition to the educational curriculum, a job-placement program will help graduates find employment in Michigan’s booming legal cannabis market.

“This Detroit training and operations facility is only the first step in bringing tangible opportunities to the people of this city—one that means so much to me—while eliminating barriers to an industry with unlimited economic potential,” Webber said. 

“We will create, foster and provide a cannabis ecosystem that celebrates diversity, creates jobs and benefits this community—focusing intensely on those who are being left behind. As social equity programs struggle in many states, we are here to support legacy operators who created the foundation for this industry so that they are included in future iterations of it while we wait on the politics to catch up.”

Construction on the first phase of the Webber Wellness Compound is expected to begin this fall, with work slated to wrap up by March 2022. A $125 million second phase, which as of yet has no announced timeline, will expand the cultivation area by 80,000 square feet.

“This is my biggest priority in life,” Webber said. “I’ve seen who (Willis) and I have helped across the country and the lives that have been disrupted by cannabis. Hopefully, we can do a little bit of repairing. Hopefully, we can help the city.”

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Josiah Hesse on ‘Runner’s High,’ Athletics and Smashing the Stigma

When I heard my Denver writer colleague Josiah Hesse was releasing a major-deal book on cannabis and running, Runner’s High, I knew I had to chat about it with him for High Times. All writers have a struggle story, but Hesse’s is particularly powerful. Self-educated as an author, he independently put out his books and others through his previous job with Suspect Press in Denver.

When the magazine took a hiatus, and the world shut down, like many, Hesse was at a crossroads. But through the combined joy of toking up and working out, he was able to not only rediscover a love for running, but also come up with an idea for a major, groundbreaking book on cannabis. We caught up on how it all went down and the meaning behind the narrative.

Runner’s High Answers Burning Questions About Cannabis and Exercise

Courtesy of Josiah Hesse

Walk me through how the whole thing came to be, from the process of coming up with the idea and working on it to actually landing such big book deal, which we know is not easy.

I first got into running just for mental health reasons, to sort of improve some depression and anxiety symptoms. But I didn’t enjoy it all that much. I tried it later on with edibles around the time that legalization had hit Denver, and it was a very different experience for me. I felt lighter; I felt happier. There was less pain, less effort. It felt really good, and I started doing it all the time.

But, it was a while before I started meeting other runners and got into trail running and learned that cannabis is very popular with endurance runners, ultra marathon runners. And I thought that was interesting. It was so popular that I wrote an article about that for The Guardian, and the vast majority of professional athletes said they were using cannabis in their training and their recovery.

Additionally, I learned about the science behind the runner’s high, the sort of more sober, organic runner’s high, and it’s from endocannabinoids that exist in our brains, produced by our brains and bodies so that anyone who enjoys running, not just those who consume cannabis, but anyone, they’re experiencing a type of cannabis high.

So learning that these two things are sort of intrinsically linked really just piqued my curiosity for the subject. And you know when you’re a journalist and you get excited about a subject, typically, you’ve got a whole lot of other people working on that subject, but no one was covering it yet, so there was no competition for this beat, which was very exciting to learn that something was so prevalent with amateur athletes and with professional athletes, and yet so was so under-reported.

Me and my agent then crafted the proposal and went around to New York publishers. A lot of them thought it was a ridiculous idea and didn’t believe that anyone was using marijuana in conjunction with exercise. Some of them were even angry that the pitch landed on their desk. It really illustrated the difference between the East Coast, New York and the bubble that we live in in the West.

When we landed with Putnam, they were really excited about it, but they made a point to tell us, “This isn’t in our wheelhouse so we trust that you know what you’re talking about.”

Then things just kind of serendipitously came together when the story with Sha’Carri Richardson and the Olympics happened to drop just a couple months before the book came out, and it is something that a lot of people are talking about now and you see a lot of the cannabis industry. Now businesses are creating products designed for athletes and there are podcasts and publications on this, so it is becoming a part of the industry, and a part of the conversation in all avenues of sport. Just a few years ago, we were getting laughed out of meetings because people just thought this was a novelty book.

I’m so glad it’s taken more seriously now. How did having a background with DIY writing and publishing help when it came to writing for a big book deal?

I think what helped with Runner’s High in that regard was having written a couple of books and having gone through the marketing process from an artistic standpoint, being knowledgeable when it came to like actual, targeted marketing and strategic marketing wanted to make the marketing part of the creative experience. And so, you know, having written the books, and then gone through that, I had a sense of what I wanted and what I didn’t want for a book like this. It could so easily become a novelty book in the wrong hands.

What do you want people to take away when they read it?

That’s a great question, and there’s a lot of things that I hope Runner’s High achieves, like breaking the stigma about people who use cannabis and allowing professional athletes to be open about their cannabis use, allowing the cannabis industry to enter the world of sports in the form of sponsorships and endorsements and advertising. But I think the number-one thing that I want to emphasize with this book is that exercise does not have to suck.

I think that’s where a lot of Americans are at when it comes to exercise; they think of it as something that they have to get done. You know, the way I would think about like doing my taxes; I really hate doing my taxes; it’s a pain in the ass, and it causes me a lot of stress. I know for some people it’s fun, but I hate doing it, but I do it because it’s something I have to get done.

I think that’s the way a lot of people approach exercise, and they think of it from a cultural standpoint, like, “I’m not that kind of person who goes to the gym; I’m not an athlete.” There’s body dysmorphia; there’s pain; there’s all sorts of the barriers that people feel about exercise, both physically and psychologically, that I think cannabis has the power to help and change people’s relationship to their body and to the practice of exercise.

In terms of your own personal achievements, do you have any plans after the book for releasing another in your fiction series, or anything else you can share?

I would love to write Carnality Three, the third book in my fiction series. And I’d like to do a memoir because I really want to do just a straight piece of reporting about my childhood and my hometown. There’s lots of stuff I’d like to do. I want to write a biography of Pete Doherty. I think there’s always a lot of ideas; I I’ve never been short on ideas for projects, but there’s so many other factors.

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World Anti-Doping Agency to Reconsider Ban on Cannabis

Two months after the United States’ top women’s sprinter was ruled ineligible for the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for marijuana, the international agency overseeing banned substances in sports said it is ready to review its prohibition on pot. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said Tuesday that it will act on an endorsement from its Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group and initiate “a scientific review of the status of cannabis.” Cannabis is on WADA’s list of banned substances, and the agency said it will continue to be in 2022.

The development comes on the heels of the July suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson, who had won the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials earlier in the summer. Weeks before the Tokyo games were set to kick off, Richardson accepted a one-month suspension after the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that she had tested positive for cannabis.

Both the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee follow WADA’s banned substance code.

The suspension of Richardson, 21, was widely criticized and mocked, with many observers in and out of the world of track and field pointing the inconsistency of banning marijuana at a time when a growing number of states in America––and even the federal government––are moving toward legalizing pot.

(The USADA’s official reasoning for banning marijuana use among its athletes is that pot poses a health and safety risk to athletes and that cannabis can be performance-enhancing.)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki lamented the suspension, noting that Richardson’s mother had recently passed.

“It does stink,” Psaki said in an interview on cable news at the time. “I don’t think there’s a better definition of it. She has lost her mother; she’d gone through a tragedy and she’s also the fastest woman in the world—and I think she’s sending a message to a lot of little girls out there; you can do this. We know the rules are where they are; maybe we should take another look at them. We certainly have to respect the role of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Olympic Committee and the decisions they make. But it is sad.”

Other voices in politics derided the suspension.

“Marijuana is not a performance-enhancing drug unless you’re entered in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July,” said Representative Steven Cohen, a Democrat who represents Tennessee’s ninth district. “To take her right to appear, her dream, away from her, is absurd.”

Cohen called on his colleagues on Capitol Hill to move forward on cannabis reform.

“Congress should see that we don’t have these problems in the future. We deschedule marijuana. We leave it up to the states. If [Richardson had] gotten rip-roaring drunk on margaritas, Red Bull or whatever else you drink out there these days, lagers, she’d have been fine because it wouldn’t have shown up in her system, and if it had shown up in her system––if she’d have been .02 alcohol––she still would have been allowed to run,” Cohen said.

“But for marijuana, that could have been 20 days ago, and just a puff or two, she’s gone. So let’s get real,” he continued. “The War on Drugs is a total failure. Nancy Reagan was wrong. Everybody who followed her and the others who said, ‘Just say no,’ were wrong because that wasn’t sufficient. Let’s pass this bill, and let’s decriminalize marijuana, and let’s get our people to where they are not being afflicted by the cultural lag of the United States Congress.”

Richardson, for her part, owned up to her decision.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions,” Richardson said in an interview after news of the positive test result broke. “I know what I did and what I’m not supposed to do. I know what I’m not allowed to do, and I still made that decision. Not making an excuse or looking for any empathy in my case but being in that position of my life and finding out something like that—something that I would say has impacted my life positively and negatively in my life when it comes to dealing with the relationship with my mother—that definitely was a heavy topic on me.”

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Should THC be Considered a Performance-Enhancing Drug?

When Maradonna and Lance Armstrong were both found to be using performance enhancing drugs, the world had to take a step back and rethink their sports heroes. In many people’s eyes, the greatest footballer and the greatest cyclist had both decided to – in want of a better word – cheat their way to victory. In fact, any use of performance-enhancing drugs – which are decided by the World Anti-Doping Agency – are completely illegal and will cause the user to face suspension or even lifetime bans. However, the question is, what constitutes a performance-enhancing drug?

Why are some drugs chosen to be banned and others aren’t? And, of course, what about THC and cannabis? There is no doubt that certain drugs can give an athlete an unfair advantage, but whether THC sits within this realm is controversial. 

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Performance Enhancing Drugs

So, what is a drug and what makes it performance enhancing? A drug in its simplest form is: ‘a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body’. Obviously not all drugs are considered performance-enhancing, as some are prescribed to treat physical or mental health conditions. Therefore, the World Anti-Doping Agency – who have been regulating the use of drugs in sport for millennia – have criteria that decides if a drug should be banned or not. The WADA states that a drug should be banned from sport-use if:

  • It has the potential to enhance sport performance;
  • It represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete;
  • It violates the spirit of sport (this definition is outlined in the Code).

As you can see, the criteria is slightly vague and, in a way, all drugs could somehow fit within them. For example, if a athlete uses paracetamol to treat a headache, does that count as performance-enhancing? The most obvious way to decide if a drug would be included in the WADA list would be to judge if it was performance-enhancing or not. Of course there are drugs that have been created and designed to enhance people’s abilities in sports. These same drugs will crop up a lot in various cases where athletes have utilised them for victory. Therefore, let’s take a look at some of the most common performance-enhancing drugs. 

Anabolic Steroids 

Anabolic steroids are used by many athletes to increase their muscle strength. The substance produces testosterone, which is used to help muscle building. For body builders especially, this drug can have some performance-enhancing tendencies. Some more dangerous versions of anabolic steroids are called: ‘designer steroids’. These are designed to be undetectable by drug tests. However, this means that they have not been tested. Some people have suffered infertility and baldness as a consequence of this drug.  


Diuretics can help decrease an athlete’s weight by changing the natural balance of electrolytes in the body. The decrease of water in the body, which the substance causes, can lead to a ‘prefered’ weight for the athlete. Also, Diuretics is often called the ‘masking’ agent as the dilution of the urine can sometimes help athletes pass drug tests incorrectly. 


Erythropoietin, or EPO, is the same performance-enhancing drug that Lance Armstrong took. Why? Well, EPO is a hormone which is usually used to treat Anemia. The drug increases the amount of oxygen that is carried to the body’s organs. This enhances performance in endurance sports like cycling because it improves the movement of oxygen to the muscles. Again, the overuse of these drugs can cause some detrimental effects.  

What Are The Common Traits?

In order to decide if THC should also be part of the WADA performance-enhancing team, then let’s take a look at what are the common traits in these three stated drugs. In all Diuretics, EPO and Anabolic Steroids, there is an example of a shifting of body functions that changes the way the body creates certain chemicals. This creates a short-term atmosphere within the body that enhances the athlete’s ability. However, over time, this short-term shift can cause negative long-term effects. Does THC do the same?

The Wonders of THC

Let’s first remind ourselves of the wonders of tetrahydrocannabinol before judging if it should or should not be part of the WADA list. THC is a major cannabinoid within the cannabis plant and is responsible for the well-known ‘high’ effects. THC is used both recreationally and medically because of its enjoyable and helpful benefits. Recreationally, it can be used to cause: 

  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Giggliness
  • Creativity 
  • Amusement
  • Sensory Enhancement

THC is also now being used more to treat physical and mental problems. Although lots of governments around the world have not legalized it, self-medicating THC is common. Here a list of the some of the problems it treats: 

  • Cancer Symptoms
  • Epilepsy
  • Loss of Appetite 
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Chronic Pain 
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Tourettes

With THC being used by many people both recreationally and medically, the question is: is it on the World Anti-Doping Agency list?

THC In Sport

WADA considers THC to be a performance-enhancing drug. This is despite the fact that many countries have now legalized THC, such as the Netherlands, Spain and 19 states in America. In 2011, the WADA published a paper in Sports Medicine, which highlighted the reasons why cannabis, and more specifically THC, is on the list of performance-enhancing drugs. 

  • “Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in-competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.”
  • “Based on current animal and human studies as well as on interviews with athletes and information from the field, cannabis can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.”
  • “Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.

The most recent case of cannabis in sports was very recently. In June 2021, Sha’Carri Richardson – the female US Olympic sprinter – was found positive for THC in her medical test. She even went on TV and admitted to the use of it, stating that she was using cannabis to deal with the recent death of her mother. She was given a 1 month ban and will now not race in the 100m sprint in the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This decision, despite being eligible by the WADA rules, has caused much outrage. 

Should THC be considered a Performance-Enhancing Drug?

Whilst the World Anti-Doping Agency has one idea, the answer should surely be a no. It seems that the WADA are stuck in time, unable to accept modern cannabis research and are outright stubborn. Margaret Haney, who is a professor of Nerubiology at Colombia University, states that:

 “the evidence is extraordinary weak…(cannabis).reduces reaction time and has other effects that would worsen performance ”

In fact, the reason why Richardson’s ban was only 1 month in length was because the WADA accepted that her use of cannabis was not to do with the competition, unrelated to sport performance, and was done because she was suffering bereavement. However, they still felt a ban of any length was necessary. 


If we look at THC and compare it to the other performance-enhancing drugs its hard to see why WADA have included it on the list. THC may enhance senses in an enjoyment sense – colours, sounds and tastes – but ultimately, the benefits of the drug don’t reach a performance-enhancing nature. THC has many benefits but, as any cannabis consumer would tell you, sports and THC certainly do not go hand in hand. Sports could become more enjoyable, like having a beer whilst kicking a football around, but competitive sports is not something that THC would help you with. Some people may argue that THC can calm you down or relax you before competing. However, so can meditation. So can alcohol. So can cigarettes. But what do you reckon? Do you think THC should be considered a performance-enhancing drug?

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Celtics Icon Paul Pierce Promotes New Cannabis Brand in Boston

Former NBA star and ESPN basketball analyst Paul Pierce was in Boston over the weekend, stopping at a marijuana dispensary to promote his new line of “Truth Number 34” cannabis products. During his visit, the former Boston Celtics forward told fans and dispensary customers that the new brand’s products are as reliable as he was on the court with the clock ticking down to zero.

“I know we’re going to bring something you can depend on, something you can go to, something that’s clutch,” Pierce said at the promotional appearance on Sunday.

“Similar to my play,” he added. “That’s what my product is going to be.”

Pierce announced earlier this year that he would be launching his new brand in the capital of Massachusetts, where legal sales of adult-use cannabis began in 2018. Plans for the new venture include a line of cannabis edibles, topicals and concentrates sold under the brand name Truth, which was Pierce’s nickname as an NBA player. A signature strain of cannabis flower is slated to land on dispensary shelves next year.

“I have such a great connection with Boston,” Pierce told the Boston Globe in May, “so I’m excited to bring the brand there first and educate people on the plant—how it can help in everyday life and also in sports and recovery.”

Paul Pierce on Cannabis For Health

Pierce became a vocal cannabis advocate after surviving a brutal stabbing attack at a Boston nightclub in September 2000. He said that cannabis had saved his life after the assault, which nearly killed him and left him psychologically traumatized. Although Pierce recovered physically remarkably quickly, he struggled with paranoia, anxiety, depression and insomnia after the attack.

“I was dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety and sleep issues—a lot,” he said. “So I really leaned more on cannabis. But it was difficult, man.”

Pierce described how pharmaceuticals prescribed by the team doctors were ineffective and had undesirable if not dangerous side effects.

“Athletes don’t even know what’s in these pills. The league doctors just say, ‘Take this, take that, here’s a prescription,’” he said. “We get addicted to that stuff. It’s so harmful for your body. You don’t realize your liver and all your other organs are taking a pounding.”

“You really couldn’t do it while you were playing during the season because of the tests, but there were times I couldn’t even help it — I took an edible or smoked a joint just to get some sleep, and had to deal with the consequences,” he added. “It was really bad for me early on.”

Pierce Fired by ESPN After Posting Racy Weed Video

After retiring from the NBA in 2017, Pierce took a job as a basketball analyst for ESPN, working on the sports network’s shows The Jump and NBA Countdown. But after he posted an Instagram video earlier this year that showed him smoking marijuana with scantily clad women twerking in the background, Pierce was fired in April by ESPN, which is owned by family-oriented entertainment conglomerate Disney.

Pierce apparently took the job loss in stride, however, posting a video on Instagram the day after being fired in which he shared his positive attitude with the world.

“Yo, just want to thank all my supporters and thank my haters and everything,” Pierce said in the video. “Check it out, bigger and better things coming, baby. Don’t worry about it. You fall twice, you get up three times. Just always remember to smile, baby.”

Only three weeks later, he posted another video that showed him surrounded by cannabis plants in a cultivation facility, hinting at the upcoming business venture.

“We’re over in the lab, baby,” he said while panning the camera, adding “Coming soon, baby.”

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The Great Cannabis Olympian

Despite the recent wave of Cannabis legalization and decriminalization that swept the world like a tidal wave (whether medicinal or recreational use), the plant is still susceptible to scandal in the public sphere. More often than not, it’s a scandal surrounding prominent figures in our society and weed. More specifically, the scandal takes the form […]

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Is Cannabis a Performance-Enhancing Drug?

Controversy surrounding the use of cannabis by athletes leading up to the Olympic Games has reignited debate over whether cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug and what role it should play in the world of sports. In early July during the lead-up to the pandemic-delayed games, American sprinter and Olympic hopeful Sha’Carri Richardson was denied a place on the U.S. Olympic track team after testing positive for marijuana. And only days before the games began, Dominican baseball player Diego Goris was dropped from his country’s Olympic roster after it was revealed he had tested positive for cannabis at a qualifying match in June.

But why is marijuana banned for athletes? Is cannabis a performance-enhancing drug?

Ban Based on Inconclusive Evidence

The notion that cannabis can help an athlete be faster, stronger, or otherwise enhance performance is key to the ban on marijuana for athletes by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the group that sets the standards for the use of substances in sports. But the evidence to support that assertion is thin and inconclusive at best. In fact, some researchers believe that cannabis can hinder, rather than enhance, performance.

In a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018, investigators determined that while the use of cannabis in sports was not unusual, the notion that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug was not supported by research. They also called for further study into the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis for athletes.

“Although cannabis use is more prevalent in some athletes engaged in high-risk sports, there is no direct evidence of performance-enhancing effects in athletes,” the authors of the study wrote in their conclusion. “The potential beneficial effects of cannabis as part of a pain management protocol, including reducing concussion-related symptoms, deserve further attention.”

In 2020, a systematic review of available research into the use of cannabis in sports found that marijuana actually inhibited some aspects of performance, such as a causing a reduced ability to maintain effort and maximum work capacity. The research also found that cannabis could induce undesirable physiological responses including increased heart and breathing rates and a neurological effect on balance.

One study in the analysis of eight peer-reviewed publications and 10 literature reviews concluded that the drug “does not act as a sport performance enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs” and warned against the use of cannabis by athletes.

“Thus, cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided in order to maximize performance in sports,” the authors of the study wrote.

Other specialists in the field also believe that there is little evidence that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug. One such expert is David McDuff, a sports psychiatrist and professor at the University of Maryland who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Mental Health Workgroup.

“I think the consensus, in the absence of clear-cut information, is that cannabis is more likely to be viewed as performance-detracting rather than performance-enhancing,” McDuff said. “Some studies suggest that consuming marijuana has negative effects on skills such as motor coordination and mental alertness that are required in many sports — but even there, little direct evidence exists of such effects in athletes.”

Why is Cannabis Banned in Sports?

With so little support for the idea that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug, many believe the ban on marijuana and cannabinoids other than CBD should be revisited. But just why was cannabis in sports banned in the first place?

WADA first added cannabis to its list of banned substances after Canadian RossRebagliati won the Olympics’ first snowboarding gold medal in 1998. After the results of a drug screening taken during the competition were positive for marijuana, Olympic officials stripped the medal from Rebagliati. When he appealed the decision, noting that cannabis was not on the WADA list of performance-enhancing drugs, the gold medal was returned to Rebagliati, and marijuana was added to list of banned substances.

Since then, WADA has defended the ban on cannabis in sports, including in the wake of furor generated by the disqualification of Richardson. In 2011, two members of the agency and a toxicologist at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse published a research review titled “Cannabis in Sport” that was published in the journal Sports Medicine. In it, the authors wrote that “cannabis can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.” Critics of the review claim its findings are unsubstantiated and not supported by science, noting that one study it cites actually found that cannabis reduced the performance of cyclists participating in the research.

In September 2017, WADA removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances. But marijuana and all other cannabinoids, including THC, remain on the list of banned substances. However, the ban on cannabis in sports does not hinge solely on its potential as a performance-enhancing drug. In its reasoning for the ban, WADA notes that athletes who use cannabis in competition may have a greater risk of injury. The agency also writes that the “Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world.”

Under WADA rules, those two additional reasons are enough to continue the ban on cannabis in sports. And with the nearly worldwide continued prohibition of cannabis and its resulting status as an illicit drug, it seems the ban on athletes using marijuana is likely to last as long as the failed but continuing War on Drugs.  

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Cannabis in the Olympics

For those old enough to remember the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan, you may also recall when Ross Rebagilati made history — twice. He was the first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal for Men’s Snowboarding and was subsequently disqualified and stripped of his medal after a drug test revealed trace amounts of THC […]

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