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.”