When Scott McCarron returned to his locker after a round in the 2018 Boca Raton Invitational, a bottle of CBD oil pills had been placed in the cubby by Functional Remedies EndoSport. It’s not unusual for professional golfers to have various products given to them to sample, but this one in particular was intriguing to the No. 1-ranked player on the PGA Champions Tour.
McCarron didn’t know a great deal about CBD oil, but he knew enough from research and talking to other athletes who had taken cannabidiol (CBD), a supplement derived from the hemp plant, to realize that it might be able to help with some of his ailments.
“I went and tried it about two weeks later when I went home. I measure my sleep with a device called WHOOP,” McCarron said. “That’s a sleep and strain device. Major League Baseball, NFL and Olympic athletes use the device. For the first time in about two years that I’d been wearing the device, I was taking the CBD oil, started on Monday and had sleep in the green, which is fantastic sleep, for seven days straight the first time I took this CBD oil at night to help me sleep.”
McCarron has now been using the products for nearly two years and is among a growing list of PGA Champions Tour players using CBD oil for various reasons, including sleep, recovery, anxiety and inflammation. Through word of mouth of the perceived benefits, the products have spread on the Champions Tour.
Despite its open popularity among the senior players, it has taken longer to surface as an acceptable practice to discuss publicly with the PGA Tour players. That is rapidly changing, though, as the perception of and education about the product are growing as well.
What used to be a taboo topic, and a product quite a few players on the Tour were using but were reluctant to talk about, has become a growing industry — now diving into sponsorships and ambassador programs with high-profile players from both tours, including McCarron, Bubba Watson, David Toms, Vaughn Taylor, DJ Trahan, Kenny Perry, Tom Kite and Scott Piercy, among others.
Part of the reason CBD oil has been more popular early on in the Champions Tour is because the players are older, with rapidly changing bodies, and are looking for ways to continue competing at a high level with their grueling schedules.
A big reason the senior players are more open to discussing CBD use than their younger counterparts on the PGA Tour, however, is because they are not drug-tested in the same way as the under-50 crowd on the PGA Tour.
CBD is derived from the hemp plant, which is a strain of cannabis, but it is grown and used to make the products because it typically contains less THC, the psychoactive ingredient that causes a high, than the marijuana plant.
THC is a substance banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and because the CBD products are not regulated by the FDA, there is a level of uncertainty about what is actually in the product. It raises questions about whether the THC levels are low enough to keep the Tour players from failing a drug test and if the listed ingredients are actually what make up the CBD oil.
“I think everybody [on the Tour] was taking a wait-and-see approach,” McCarron said. “They want to make sure it is legal and there is nothing in it. One of the things with the Tour, to their credit, they put out a statement saying it’s not illegal to take this substance, but you better make sure you know what’s in it.
“There’s so many CBD companies out there right now, that you might not know what’s in it. So 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.”
That’s why Steve Patterson, the director of sales at Functional Remedies EndoSport, was apprehensive at first about whether the Tour players would accept it when the company decided to go beyond the Champions Tour in the fall of 2018.
The company now has 50 players on the Tour who are using their products, which include a salve to rub on the skin, oil to take orally and pills.
“The players are comfortable with a low THC count. That was the main thing I had a hesitancy about, what is their response to putting something in their bodies that’s new?…” Patterson said. “But it’s also a natural product, so then word of mouth, it really took off. That’s where the popularity and acceptance has come in.”
The PGA Tour’s stance on CBD, according to Andy Levinson, the senior vice president of tournament administration, is that it falls under the same category as permitted supplements. The Tour warns its players that any supplement is to be taken at their own risk and that there are potential pitfalls to taking products that could contain ingredients not listed on the package.
“There’s very, very little FDA regulation over the supplement industry as a whole, so if a player wants to take any supplements, whether it’s CBD, or a multivitamin, or a protein powder, they need to understand that there is risk associated with that regardless of the manufacturer, because there is very little FDA regulation over the industry,” Levinson said. “There is no guarantee that what is on the label is actually contained in the product.”
Because the CBD products are considered supplements and not a drug, the manufacturers are not allowed to make any medicinal claims of benefits, either. The players have noted that they have seen improvements in sleep, recovery, anxiety and focus, and that’s where the word-of-mouth testimonials have benefited the companies.