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2021 Tokyo Olympics: Can Athletes Use CBD Products?

 Can athletes use CBD and CBD-based products? And what is the relationship of sports with cannabis use in general? Stay tuned to find out!

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With the Olympic cycle in full swing, questions about what substances athletes can legally use are the hottest topics. Drug use by athletes is one of the most popular and controversial subjects in sports in general, whether it’s to enhance their performance or just for recreation. Allegations and controversies have threatened and ended careers, and every big competition brings a lot of tension, with potential doping scandals ensuing at every corner.

Everyone knows that steroid and performance-enhancing drugs aren't legal. But there are substances that are in a so-called grey-zone. People aren’t always sure if these are legal or not. CBD is the most famous example, and questions about whether athletes can use it or not are becoming more and more frequent. 

So, can athletes use CBD-based products? And what is the relationship of sports and cannabis use in general? Stay tuned to find out!

Sports and Cannabis: A Complicated History

Whenever we talk about drug use and sports, we refer to steroids and other performance-enhancers. There are countless stories of athletes cheating their way to the top, from the famous Lance Armstrong to the most recent scandal involving hundreds of Russian athletes and their government that supported drug-use. 

But, what many people don’t realize is that cannabis should also be a part of that conversation. According to the US Anti-Doping Agency, cannabis can also enhance performance. Their data comes from several human and animal case studies where they tested the effects of cannabis in controlled environments. 

According to said studies, cannabis can help improve an athlete’s fitness and performance. Some weed strains give the user a burst of energy and help them last longer during workouts or runs. If we look at cannabis from that point of view, there isn’t much that separates it from steroids. 

But the world of sports didn’t know about the enhancing properties of cannabis until 1998.

The Banning of Cannabis

In 1998, Ross Rebagliati, a snowboarder from Canada, tested positive for THC at the Winter Olympics after winning the Gold Medal. The Olympics committee suspended his medal right away. But, they soon realized that cannabis wasn't on the list of banned substances, which meant that they couldn’t legally sanction him. 

Ross went on to have a successful career and became a great advocate for CBD later on. But the world of sports and its relationship to cannabis shifted fully after this event. 

The Olympics soon made cannabis illegal. And a year later, they established the World Anti-Doping Agency. Cannabis and any related products became a hot topic everywhere, and athletes were put under a magnifying glass even if there was just a whisper of them possibly smoking weed. 

Into the New Century

The trend of exposing athletes to smoking weed continued throughout the early 21st century. The most famous example is definitely that of US swimmer Michael Phelps. 

Phelps was caught smoking weed, and photos were published right away. Because of the photos, Phelps was suspended from competitions for three months. He also lost a few sponsorships, including one with Kellogg. It seemed like smoking weed was the biggest offense an athlete could make.

But, as a new decade dawned, rules and regulations on cannabis use began to be relaxed. 

New Rules

In 2013, the World Anti-Doping Agency quietly raised the legal amount of THC an Olympic athlete can have in their blood to still pass a drug test. The THC threshold then became ten times higher or 150 ng/mL. The same rule applies today.

The WADA changed the rules again in 2016. This time, they said that athletes can smoke weed, so long as they do it outside of competition windows. So, if an athlete uses marijuana for fun outside of competitions, no one can sanction them for it. But, if they have elevated THC levels during a competition, they will be suspended immediately. 

But what about CBD? Is it legal to use?

Sports and CBD

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Though the WADA’s stance on cannabis is quite clear, the story with CBD isn’t as simple. Since CBD has none of the psychoactive and intoxicating compounds of marijuana, there is no reason to ban it. And, since many are using CBD as a natural remedy for many ailments, the question of whether banning it is justified has been raised.

After looking at vast research and scientific proof about the usefulness of cannabinoids, CBD in particular, the WADA made a decision to lift the ban on CBD in 2019. 

In their new list of prohibited substances, the agency clearly states that cannabinoids are no longer prohibited. Of course, the ban on THC still stands. So, using any CBD products with a higher level of THC than allowed will result in a suspension.

But, most athletes use highly rated good quality products, and those have a small and thus harmless amount of CBD. So, whether an athlete is using CBD to treat anxiety, depression, migraines, chronic pain, sleeping issues, or any other problem they have, it is fully legal for them to do so. 

Many have come forward in celebration of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision, finally able to use their favorite natural remedy for pain. Athletes and coaches alike have praised the decision, saying that although the step is small, it indicates that their community is finally moving in the right direction and that the stigma on CBD use is slowly being lifted.

A Few Parting Words 

As we saw, the relationship between the sports community and cannabis is quite complex. Athletes still can't smoke weed during competitions since it can help enhance their performance. But cannabinoids and, by extension, CBD, are perfectly fine to use. 

The decision to lift the ban on CBD and recognize its vast health benefits is a big step in the right direction for WADA and the sports community in general. The times of suspensions and losing sponsors for CBD use are long gone, and we can happily turn to new times where clarity and science are valued by all.