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Eighty Percent of NFL Players Use Cannabis, Says Chiefs’ Travis Kelce

Today, Travis Kelce is regarded as one of the all-time great tight-ends to play in the National Football League. However, his ascension to the upper echelon of NFL players was not always so certain. The tight end’s football career nearly stalled in Cincinnati when he tested positive for marijuana, and the school suspended him for the 2010 season. In the years since his college days, he proved himself as a football legend for the Kansas City Chiefs. Drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, he went on to help his team win Super Bowl LIV and Super Bowl LVII.

Cannabis consumption could have cost him his career. Today attitudes and rules surrounding marijuana consumption in athletes are changing. Although he has nothing but anecdotal evidence to contribute to the conversation about cannabis consumption among football players in the NFL, Kelce says he thinks up to 80 percent of professional football players use cannabis.

Does Kelce still have his finger on the pulse of professional NFL players, or are his assumptions based purely on speculation and his previous experience consuming marijuana as a young athlete? The answer may be a little bit of both.

Marijuana and the NFL

Attitudes surrounding recreational marijuana use in the United States are shifting. More states nationwide follow Colorado and Washington’s lead by legalizing cannabis for adult use. However, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, still considered a Schedule I substance. The confusing patchwork of laws and regulations makes navigating the cannabis debate challenging for national organizations, especially sporting clubs.

Athletes crisscross the nation pitting their athletic prowess against the competition. Since legalization began, there have been questions swirling around what players can and can’t do in their home states, especially when they hit the road so often visiting places where cannabis consumption may not be legal. In the past, the blanket policy was to ban all controlled substances. Sporting leagues like the National Football League severely disciplined all players who tested positive for controlled substances like marijuana. Ten players from each team were regularly selected for drug testing each week during the NFL regular season.

Additionally, players needed to be tested at least once during the offseason. A positive drug test in the NFL meant referral to a substance abuse program. Subsequent positive drug tests could earn players fines and suspensions. A sixth violation means a one-year ban from the sport.

As other sporting leagues moved with the times, adjusting their policies to reflect the shift in America’s attitude toward marijuana, the NFL decided to follow suit. A new collective bargaining agreement meant players wouldn’t be tested for Delta-9 THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. The CBA also raised the threshold for a positive marijuana test from 35 to 150 nanograms while eliminating suspensions for positive drug tests. However, fines remain on the table.

How Many NFL Players Use Marijuana?

Kansas City football star Travis Kelce estimates since the new collective bargaining agreement took effect, at least 50 to 80 percent of all NFL players are using marijuana, the drug that once nearly cost him his football career. In a Vanity Fair piece, the football superstar claims that players would stop using marijuana in the middle of July so they could pass drug tests before the start of the season.

Kelce may be one of the biggest NFL stars to make the bold claim, but he isn’t the only one. Former tight end Martellus Bennett claimed that nearly 89 percent of NFL players consume marijuana. Former running back Ricky Williams, whose career was plagued by drug-related suspensions, said he thought at least 80 percent of players indulged in cannabis. Are these the optimistic estimates of marijuana enthusiasts or anecdotal accounts based on locker room talk?

Digging into the actual number of NFL athletes who consume marijuana gets hazy. For years, cannabis consumption was a taboo topic in the sport. While conclusive statistics remain elusive, some estimates support these former NFL players’ claims. Across sports leagues like the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB, Denver journalist Josiah Hesse estimates that 60 to 80 percent of professional athletes consume cannabis.

Why Are Professional Football Players and Athletes Turning to Cannabis?

Professional football players must constantly operate at high athletic levels, pushing their bodies toward peak performance week after week in the name of entertainment. Although the National Football League tracks player injury data, some publications question the accuracy of this data, saying the League doesn’t do enough to track injuries, nor does it detail specific diagnoses or the severity of player injuries. It may be impossible to gauge how many NFL players suffer chronic pain and physical complications associated with their time in the League.

One claim science does seem to back hints that marijuana can help with pain relief. Some clinical studies indicate cannabis consumption can help ease pain, especially pain associated with injuries and chronic medical conditions. To cope with the mental and physical stress associated with achieving outstanding athletic performance, more NFL players may be turning to cannabis for its medicinal and therapeutic effects.

To further education surrounding medicinal marijuana, the NFL recently awarded $1 million in research funding to help study the effects of cannabinoids on pain management and neuroprotection in elite football players. The League claims they want to improve their pain management and treatment approach.

Concussions are one of the leading injuries affecting NFL players. During the 2022 regular season, there were 149 recorded concussions, an 18 percent jump from the previous season. Some researchers believe different cannabinoids may potentially benefit athletes suffering from the acute and long-term complications of concussions. Although research continues, Travis Kelce and others predict that over 80 percent of NFL players may already suspect what science is trying to prove. Marijuana can help athletes cope with the physical and mental rigors of competing at the ultimate sporting level.

Do you want more of the latest cannabis news? Check out Cannabutter Digest. We bring you the best cannabis-related newsrecipes, and product reviews.


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