It’s one of the most popular trends on the PGA Tour. And, some would argue, one of its riskiest. CBD oil usage is growing among PGA Tour members as golfers continue to seek ways that allow them to continue competing at a high level.
Players are using and endorsing CBD, but the PGA Tour is wary
It’s one of the most popular trends on tour. And, some would argue, one of its riskiest.
In 2018, the World AntiDoping Agency removed CBD from its Prohibited List, allowing its use by PGA Tour players and Olympic athletes. (The tour, as a participant in the Games, takes its direction on drug enforcement from WADA and the United States Anti-Doping Agency.) Maggie Durand of WADA says a drug is placed on the list for meeting two of three criteria: It has the potential to enhance sport performance, it represents a health risk to the athletes, and it violates the spirit of sport.
According to tour players, caddies and coaches interviewed by Golf Digest, perhaps 15 to 20 players, or more, routinely use a CBD product. Bubba Watson, Charley Hoffman, Lucas Glover and Scott Piercy are among the high-profile names with CBD-related sponsorships, along with Champions player Scott McCarron.
What spurs the players’ CBD use varies. Cited benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, anxiety relief, and improved sleep. Watson, who has been the most vocal player on the topic, says the product keeps him pain-free.
“What many don’t realize is the incredible mental and physical strain pro golfers endure practicing and competing day after day and year after year,” says Anthony Mazzotti, CEO of Functional Remedies, which became the first hemp-oil company to become an official sponsor on tour (the Champions’ Rapiscan Systems Classic).
In April, however, the tour sent a warning to players about CBD. The warning, which the tour shared with Golf Digest, states, “The FDA, DEA and private organizations including Major League Baseball (MLB), have conducted tests on CBD and “THC-free” products only to find significant levels of psychoactive (and prohibited) THC or falsely labeled amounts of CBD.”
Andy Levinson, executive director of the PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program, has expressed concern because of the lack of regulation within the industry. In a 2017 study, the American Medical Association discovered more than two-thirds of products tested had different levels of CBD than what was stated on the label. In 21 percent of those items, THC was found, which at any level could produce a failed test for a tour player.
“CBD in its pure form is not prohibited,” Levinson told Golf Digest, “but the use of CBD in any of its currently available forms would be at a player’s risk.”
Some players remain undaunted. “I’ve had doctors involved to do my research and see what companies out there make a product that’s safe for me and safe for my family. It was a no-brainer,” Watson says. “There’s no bad stuff in it, there are no chemicals in there that will mess you up or make you fail a drugs test. There are certain companies we trust.”
To this point, no player has publicly failed a tour drug test because of CBD use. And, given the samples of CBD products available at a handful of PGA Tour events this season, there’s not a back-room stigma to its use. Nevertheless, Levinson says he gets more CBD-related questions than on any other supplement.
“You see this a lot in the supplement industry,” Levinson says. “There’s some buzz around something, and everybody tries it, and they might stick to it for a while, but generally a lot of times it fades away.”
CBD oil gaining traction with professional golfers
Golf may not be judged to be as physically grueling as other sports, but it still can take a toll on the athlete. In a bid to find ways to remain mentally and physically fresh, golfers are seeking the help of cannabidiol oil.
As more athletes seek ways to handle pain and gain an edge, leagues and governing bodies will be pushed to make decisions on CBD oil. Pro golfers are the latest to turn to CBD.
Through its rise in popularity on the PGA Tour Champions (the senior tour), CBD oil has slowly gained acceptance across the PGA Tours even though officials remain cautious due to where it derives from.
“There is no guarantee that what is on the label is actually contained in the product,” said Andy Levinson , the PGA Tour senior vice president of tournament administration to ESPN.
CBD oil is derived from marijuana plants. Studies and anecdotal evidence suggest CBD oil usage reduces anxiety, inflammation, sleeplessness and chronic pain. CBD oil chemicals interact with the receptors for both the brain and the immune system, according to Healthline.com . The cells react to chemical signals, which lead to painkilling and anti-inflammatory effects to assist with pain-management.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, according to Healthline.com , has the same medical benefits as CBD. However, THC is the main psychoactive component in marijuana; it causes the high people experience when using the drug. While both compounds interact with a body’s endocannabinoid system, CBD can be used by athletes and is legal all over the world. THC is banned by the World-Anti Doping Agency , whose standards the PGA Tour enforces.
However, the uncertainty on the part of PGA officials arises from the FDA’s inability to regulate CBD products, leaving athletes unsure of what they are ingesting.
“Everybody (on the Tour) was taking a wait-and-see approach,” Scott McCarron, the No.1-ranked player on senior tour, told ESPN. “They (golfers) want to make sure it is legal and there is nothing in it.”
In 2018, WADA listed CBD as an exception among cannabinoids on its List of Prohibited Substances and Methods , while marijuana and THC remain prohibited. The decision opened the door for CBD to be considered as an alternative for athletes.
PGA Tour golfers are held accountable by the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policies. According to Golfworld.com , cannabinoids such as marijuana and hashish are prohibited. PGA Tour pro Robert Garrigus returned from a three-month suspension, which he attributed in March to marijuana.
McCarron did his research before taking CBD oil to help him sleep at night. That was more than two years ago when he was at risk of being sanctioned, and he is among those on the PGA Champions Tour who use CBD oil. He still stresses the importance of being educated on what is going into your body and on the risks of being negligent.
“If you’re on the PGA Tour, you better do your homework and make sure there’s nothing in it that can give you a positive test,” McCarron told ESPN in July 2019.
In the past two years, CBD companies and touring pros have formed business relationships. Functional Remedies EndoSport has more than 50 players on the tours who are using their products. At first, players were hesitant, concerned with testing positive for THC, but the company overcame those concerns.
“It is also a natural product, so then word of mouth, it really took off,” Steve Patterson, the director of sales at Functional Remedies EndoSport, said to ESPN. “That’s where the popularity and acceptance came in.”
Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson is another big advocate of CBD oil. Watson was looking for a way to treat inflammation and enhance sleep.
“It’s all about safety,” Watson said in an interview with Forbes. “I’ve got to have safety; I’ve got to (take) drug tests. I’ve got to do all of these things and to protect myself and to play competitive golf.”
Watson announced in May 2019 a partnership with the CBD oil company cbdMD, The multi-year deal calls for its brand to be visible on his headwear.
“cbdMD is the safest on the market, and I am proud to partner with them to help millions feel better,” Watson said.
Retired NFL players Steve Smith Sr. and Jonathan Stewart also recently partnered with the firm. “After the constant contact and injuries my body endured throughout my career in the NFL, cbdMD has been able to help me live a better quality of life during retirement,” Stewart said in a press release.
Golfers are prepared to keep pushing the narrative of the positive impact that CBD oil has on their sport in hopes of eliminating its misconception.
“When you find out what’s really in it, what isn’t in it, that it’s natural and that the levels of THC are so minute, I think it’s going to continue to take off,” McCarron said.
Corey Kirk is a masters sports journalism student at Arizona State University
Editor’s note: For the coming 2019-2020 academic year, the Global Sport Institute’s research theme will be “Sport and the body.” The Institute will conduct and fund research and host events that will explore a myriad of topics related to the body.