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During 2018, the removal of cannabidiol (CBD) from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned substances list went into effect. This change prompted an inquiry about the rules regarding CBD in other sports organisations Worldwide. While many cover the topic of marijuana in sports, we were curious as to how sports organisations handle CBD, if at all.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found naturally in the cannabis plant. When sourced from hemp, CBD oil contains less than 0.2% THC, which is the compound that causes a euphoric high that cannabis is infamous for. CBD does not get you high; instead, it is being studied for a variety of health benefits. When sourced properly, hemp-derived CBD oil is legal in the UK and US.

The WADA is the first major sports organisation to acknowledge CBD as a natural extract which is not connected to marijuana. Some leagues look as if cannabis reform is in the future, while others cannot be budged. Here’s a look at six top sports organisations and their views on CBD.

WADA

In August 2016, UFC fighter Nate Diaz spoke about using CBD vapes at a UFC 202 post-fight press conference. In response, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) issued Diaz a public warning the use of a prohibited substance. Since the lift of the ban in January 1, 2018, however, athletes like Diaz can be as outspoken about CBD as they’d like.

WADA Removes CBD as a Prohibited Substance

“Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited.” This statement, released by WADA in September 2017, is the first of its kind in the history of competitive sports. With this decision, WADA has given thousands of athletes the opportunity to use CBD as a natural alternative without the fear of consequence.

Created by the International Olympic Committee, WADA unifies global anti-doping policies. Organizations that use the WADA policy include the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, all International Federations, and over 200 National Anti-Doping Organisations, including USADA. USADA has advocated for the adoption of WADA policy by collegiate and professional sports leagues, although this change has yet to be embraced.

The modified WADA document does caution athletes to be aware of the THC levels in the CBD products they are using. The document states, “Synthetic cannabidiol is not a cannabimimetic; however, cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance” (source).

WADA’s threshold for THC is 150 nano grams (ng) per milliliter (ml), which was raised from 15ng/ml in 2013. This is the highest THC threshold compared to the collegiate and professional sports leagues discussed here. In terms of recreational substances, WADA has been progressive. Dr. Alan Vernec, the agency’s medical director, told the LA Times, “It’s a very active process that … is always open to debate and is discussed regularly.”

With its significant impact on the global sports community, it is our hope that WADA’s decision will prompt other sports organisations to follow its lead on CBD regulations.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulates athletes across over 1,200 institutions, conferences, and organisations. This sports organisation is known for having the strictest marijuana testing threshold in comparison not only to other sports organisations but to employers such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. military. The NCAA testing threshold for marijuana is 5 ng/ml and took effect on Aug. 1, 2013.

Cannabidiol is not listed on the NCAA 2017-18 Banned Drugs List. However, the list states, “Any substance that is chemically related to one of the above classes, even if it is not listed as an example, is also banned!” (The exclamation point is included.) It is under our assumption that CBD is considered “chemically related” to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and is, therefore, a banned substance.

NCAA’s Changing Approach

In 2014, the NCAA passed legislation that reduced the penalty for a positive marijuana test from a full season to half a season. This is less of a penalty than a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids or human growth hormone (HGH).

Regarding this change in legislation, a representative for the NCAA stated, “Street drugs are not performance-enhancing in nature, and this change will encourage schools to provide student-athletes the necessary rehabilitation” (Source). This reflects the NCAA’s changing approach to recreational drugs such as marijuana and the shift in focus from punishment to drug education and rehabilitation.

NCAA and WADA Policy

During a meeting in December of 2017, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) voted on a recommendation that would modify the NCAA’s banned drug classes to reflect the prohibited list established by the WADA. Under this change, the cannabinoids class would only include marijuana; CBD would not be prohibited. This recommendation will need to see support from the NCAA governing members if it is to move forward.

Without the information to determine the admissibility of CBD, we are left to conclude that the use of CBD is banned in the NCAA. It appears, at this time, that the NCAA does not feel the pressure to acknowledge CBD as either a potential health supplement or a banned substance.

For students seeking more information regarding the use of CBD, the NCAA states, “Before consuming any nutritional/dietary supplement product, review the product with the appropriate or designated athletics department staff!”

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