Pick Your Poison: Marijuana Vs Opiates in the Professional Sports World

marijuana in sports

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated former NFL running back Ricky Williams shared his belief on marijuana usage in sports (Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated/Robert Beck)

Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Ricky Williams and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all share one interesting thing in common.

But first, let’s consider their distinct talents: Michael Phelps may as well be half fish and half human—arguably the greatest Olympian of all time. Faster than a strike of lightning,  Usain Bolt can rightly consider himself the fastest man on earth. Ricky Williams was a freight train running back, one of the best of his generation. Finally, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: a Hall of Famer with the most unstoppable sky-hook of all time.

Okay, so the four athletes had amazing careers in their respective sports, but did you know they all admittedly smoked marijuana?

This year, Olympic competitors are permitted to smoke weed under specific conditions. They may not use marijuana if they are competing or practicing, but can if they want on their off days. Those four athletes listed above would have loved that luxury. Professional athletes are just regular people like you and I, but their level of talent keeps them in the spotlight.

So that brings us to the next question: is marijuana a harmful substance?

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Marijuana Vs. Painkillers

Calvin Johnson, retired wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, recently exposed the NFL’s view on painkillers: “The doctors, the team doctors and trainers they were giving them (painkillers) out like candy,” Johnson said on ESPN investigative show E:60.

Many players do whatever it takes to stay on the field, and that includes taking harmful opioid painkillers.

Painkillers are far more dangerous to the body and the brain than marijuana. Still, for some reason team sports doctors will administer them,  and the league allows usage if the players have a valid doctors note. Painkillers do an extraordinary job at killing the pain but the adverse effects are something to watch out for.

Side effects of painkillers include:

  • Addiction
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death

Marijuana, on the other hand, is NOT the safest alternative either, but research does show that it relieves chronic pain. Despite what your parents believe, marijuana does have medical properties. It can help with pain management but has some moderate to severe psychological effects, depending on the individual.

Side effects of marijuana include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Increased appetite
  • Memory impairment
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lung problems

So marijuana presents less harmful side effects than painkillers, but still causes lack of motivation and memory impairment. Can you imagine what level of excellence Ricky Williams, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Kareem Abdul-Jabar would’ve experienced if they didn’t smoke marijuana?

The Dangers of Addiction

There have been many professional athletes over the years that have suffered from addiction, most relevant right now being Michael Phelps.how to prepare for your sports job search ebook

Phelps should be looked as an inspiration for his accomplishments outside of the pool. The now 23-time Olympic gold medal winner, admitted himself into inpatient treatment at age 30, back in April, for an alcohol addiction. The road to becoming the world’s most decorated athlete in Olympic history would not have been possible if he didn’t get sober for the 2016 summer Olympics.

He is currently sober and attending AA meetings. That performance is more inspiring that winning another 200m butterfly.

Ricky Williams is a prime example of what can happen if someone decides to take the other path. According to the man himself, he lost between $5 million and $10 million in salary and endorsements when his NFL career stalled out between 2002 and 2006. Williams could have been considered one of the greatest running backs of all time but his obsession with marijuana cut his career short.

After failing numerous drug tests for marijuana, Williams finally threw in the towel,  giving up on his football career in part to smoke weed.

The list of professional athletes who have battled drug addiction or alcoholism is a very long one. Thankfully, league officials and big name endorsements (Nike, Adidas, Kellog etc.) are preventing their athletes from abusing drugs. Yet, there are athletes who do realize they have a problem, such as Michael Phelps, who check themselves into a luxury rehab center and continue to really strive for gold.

So remember, even though some of the top athletes in the world have admitted to taking drugs, their careers may have been ten times better if they didn’t. Michael Phelps is a prime example, competing at his age in the 2016 Olympics would have never been possible if he didn’t achieve sobriety.

This article is a guest submission from Benjamin Emerling of Elite Rehab Placement and is the sole opinion of the author, not necessarily WorkinSports.com


  1. I don’t know how I can get involved but I would like to. I don’t personally know any athletes that have been affected, but i’ve seen to many of my friends fall to opiates. Some have recovered and some have not. My friends that have, have found cannabis again. My friends that haven’t are still in the trap. I’ve also seen too many fall to opiates and I can’t continue to let that happen. Let me know how that I can help.


  2. Stephan Baldwin says

    I’m curious with all the CTE brain injuries if cannabis would have a positive effect. It’s already been proven to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease (assistedlivingcenter.com/marijuana-stop-alzheimers/). I know it’s a different disease, but maybe the anti-inflammatory properties help?