Isner recently announced a partnership with Defy sports drink, a hemp-based company. (Getty)

While any association with weed or marijuana is riddled with negative stigma (and only legalized in some U.S. states), the rise of cannabidiol (CBD) by athletes has become impossible to ignore. So much so, that John Isner recently announced a partnership with Defy sports drink, a hemp-based company. 

"There's been a lot of attention in golf, but tennis has been late to the game," says Brian J. Baum, the president and CEO of CANNOVIA. "It to us was a great sign because there's a lot of benefit this can bring to tennis players. That's a huge market opportunity." 

According to the 2019 WADA Prohibited List, natural cannabinoids (e.g. cannabis, hashish and marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol THC and other cannabimimetics) are prohibited. The exception listed under that rule is cannabidiol. 

Isner is the first tennis player to back the drug, that helps with pain, inflammation, sleep, recovery and anxiety, and is often ingested as an oil, pill, topical gel or drink. Both Defy and CANNOVIA offer products with zero percent TCH—which is crucial for not testing positive. 

“It’s been great getting to know Defy as a company and I look forward to working with them to help people achieve improved performance through CBD," Isner said. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cheering on @johnrisner in today's second round @usopen match! #DEFYtheEveryday #DEFYxIsner #USopen

A post shared by DEFY ® (@defy) on

"Hemp and Cannabis is the parent of both CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive side of cannabis," Baum says. "That has certainly gotten the most attention over the last few decades or so."

So what does CBD ingestion feel like? 

"It's almost hard to put your finger on but people tend to feel more relaxed, but also more focused," Baum says. "Many people report that it's just an overall improved feeling."

In December of last year, with the 2018 Farm Bill, congress passed the legalization of hemp farming in all 50 states, which opened the door for a boom in hemp-based products and sales (and explains why you've been seeing it in your local coffee shop). Hemp is cannabis that has less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), making it legal. You'll find hemp in all kinds of everyday products include shampoos and lotions.

"The key difference—and this is very important for sports—is in the law, CBD was removed as a controlled substance," Baum says. "They defined hemp-derived CBD as less than 0.3 percent THC." 

The ITF has issued a warning about the use of CBD, explaining that "many products which claim to be pure CBD extract or oil from the cannabis plant may be contaminated by THC or other (prohibited) cannabinoids." And suggests that players "do not use CBD products...due to the risk of contamination."

Still, CBD is making a name for itself in sports and with athletes constantly looking for an edge, the popularity of CBD may increase. 

"This is an overall market interest in more natural holistic approaches to health and wellness," Baum says. "I think CBD fits into that overall trend. It's a product that is making its way very quickly through the sports industry."