Man serving in a doubles tennis match.

Is CBD Banned in Sports?

Sports, especially athletics, can be quite strenuous on the body, affecting it both negatively and positively. Training stimulates the body to adapt, thereby increasing performance. 

On the other hand, too much strain can lead to physical trauma and painful injuries. Most pain management techniques are harmful in the long run as much as they are effective. This explains why most athletes and fitness enthusiasts are turning to natural supplements such as CBD (cannabidiol) for pain management.

CBD derived from hemp was removed from WADA's list of performance-enhancing substances (World Anti-Doping Agency) in 2018. The sports nutrition sector, however, took its time adopting CBD, but lately, this cannabinoid appears in many products like pre- and post-workout products

However, drug-tested athletes should always remain cautious when using CBD products. That's because most CBD products claim to have pure CBD but actually contain traces of THC (the "high" inducing compound). Unless you have reviewed the product's certificate of analysis (CoA), there's always a likelihood of finding prohibited cannabinoids in these products.

Anti-doping labs can test for certain cannabinoids and detect more than 100 industrial hemp extracts banned by WADA beyond a certain threshold other than CBD and THC. 


Is CBD oil banned in sports?

No, CBD oil is not forbidden in sports and is not currently listed on the WADA prohibited list. As earlier noted, CBD oil might have other prohibited substances, so athletes and other sportspeople are well-advised to use CBD in the form of medical products. 

These are preferred instead of food supplements because they are strictly controlled. Also, medical products are better purified, and once administered, there's the added advantage of medical surveillance, thus lessening the chances of liver toxicity.

Athletes who are regularly tested should probably use synthetic versions of CBD to stay out of trouble. But even these should be used with caution as other prohibited compounds might find their way into them. For this reason, getting third-party lab reports and CoAs for any CBD product is always a good idea.

Research shows cannabinoids stay in the body long after consumption (2-5 days). Therefore, unless you are using CBD isolate, we advise against using cannabis products when preparing for a competition. 

That's because it takes time to wash out cannabinoids from the body. Moreover, a blood test may still detect these metabolites in your system depending on how heavy a user you are.

Meanwhile, the legality of CBD and its related products is still evolving; therefore, check your area's federal and state laws.


Benefits of CBD for athletes

Your body produces cannabinoids in what scientists identify as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). One of the functions of the ECS is to maintain homeostasis by regulating neurotransmitter activity. When you consume CBD, you essentially supplement your endocannabinoid supply, thereby supercharging your ECS. 

Any high-intensity activity typically stresses the body and can cause pain and inflammation. When the pain and inflammation are intense, you need your ECS to be firing on all cylinders. 

That's why supplementing the body's endocannabinoid supply by consuming CBD is suitable for athletes and fitness freaks. CBD helps to make the ECS more effective, thus enabling it to perform its many roles efficiently. These include:

Reduce inflammation

A little inflammation is not entirely a bad thing for athletes. It helps the body adapt fast, making training easier. However, too much inflammation may make it difficult for athletes to recover quickly, thus impacting their performance. 

Studies show that CBD-related inhibitions on oxidative stress and inflammation may have therapeutic potential in sports. They suggest that CBD can alter the release of cortisol and regulate how the body responds to injury. 

Moreover, how the body interacts with CBD, other cannabinoids, and adenosine receptors has been shown to reduce cytokine levels and modulate overactive immune cells. This reduces inflammatory responses and helps the body recover faster. 

Settle your gut

One of the leading reasons most athletes drop out of races is gut inflammation. This refers to inflammation of the small and large intestines and is known to cause considerable discomfort. CBD oil may help reduce gut inflammation issues during or after the training. 

This is because CBD has potent anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the concentration of pro-inflammatory cytokines, prevent the proliferation of T cells, trigger T cell apoptosis, and stop immune cell migration and adhesion.

There is evidence that CBD may also influence gut microbiota and help reduce inflammation

Improve sleep quality

Getting enough sleep is the best way for an athlete to recover and achieve more during training. Unfortunately, sleeping when you are tired, inflamed, and probably in pain is not easy. 

Luckily, CBD may help you to sleep better and for longer. One probable reason CBD is an effective sleep promoter is that it inhibits the reuptake of serotonin, a transmitter that promotes sleep. 

In mice and rats, studies show that CBD inhibits the reuptake of adenosine and dopamine. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is broken down as the brain burns down carbohydrates for energy leading to a gradual accumulation of adenosine. 

When adenosine binds to the neurons, it inhibits the release of neurotransmitters and slows down the brain's activity. This helps you to feel calmer, making it easier to sleep. 

Relieve pain

CBD oil is commonly used for its pain relief properties. Other than relieving pain, it may help reduce hyperalgesia and edema after hours and hours of training. CBD acts on the central nervous system, inducing sedation.

THC can also be used to reduce pain in the body. However, it may lead to other undesirable effects like loss of coordination, higher blood pressure and heart rate, and reduced capacity for physical work, all of which might affect their performance. Moreover, the presence of THC in an athlete's system is a precursor for serious trouble with WADA!  

As usual, always engage your doctor before using CBD oil as a pain management option. That's because CBD can interact with other medications and change how the body breaks down the drugs. This can have adverse effects.

Alternative to NSAIDs

Athletes are bound to get athletics-related injuries over time. More often, they take NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen, etc) which may have some not-so-desirable side effects.

Used long-term, the body becomes tolerant to these NSAIDs, so the athlete might need to take larger doses to relieve pain. However, overusing NSAIDs may lead to renal damage, heart attacks, ulcers, hypertension, and stroke when frequently used. 

CBD oil is a potential alternative due to its low-level toxicity. Besides, it has a very low abuse potential hence minimal risk of over-dependence or side effects. 

Alternative to opioids

Opioids are excellent pain management drugs (e.g., Codeine, Morphine, and OxyContin). However, they are highly addictive as they can induce "high", feelings of happiness and relaxation. For this reason, some people take opioids for their "recreational" effects. 

In fact, due to their high abuse potential, the US Department of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) declared opioid overdosing a public health emergency in 2017 and developed a 5-point strategy to combat the crisis.

CBD oil may not be as effective as opioids in relieving pain, but it can get the job done without any side effects. Further, CBD can be used as a monotherapy or with other pain management medications, especially for long-term pain management, without risks of over-dependence.

What's more, studies show that CBD can reduce drug cravings in addition to alleviating some symptoms associated with substance abuse, such as pain and anxiety. As a result, CBD may help people addicted to opioids reduce their consumption and eventually quit the habit. 


The challenges of CBD in sports nutrition

In 2018, WADA removed CBD from its list of banned performance-enhancing substances. However, the line between what substances meet WADA's legibility criteria remains blurry because hundreds of other cannabis compounds (cannabinoids) can get athletes banned by WADA. 

For example, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a cannabinoid that resembles THC with more or less similar effects. Unlike THC, THCV is not psychoactive and has the potential for use in developing clinically useful therapies for weight loss and diabetes management.

But since it's a homolog of THC, the chances of being banned if detected in an athlete's system are quite high. 

So, due to the ambiguity of legal and non-legal cannabis compounds, it is better to stay off CBD products, especially if their source(s) is suspect. It is technically difficult to extract and isolate CBD alone from industrial hemp. There is always a chance some of the 100+ cannabinoids—whose legality is questionable—might end up in the extract.

As a result, synthetic CBDs are considered an option for natural CBD. However, these tend to be more potent and toxic than natural cannabinoids, making regulatory agencies label them toxic and illicit.


How can athletes minimize the risk of doping violations?

All factors considered, it is tough being an athlete! The desire to succeed at the highest level means keeping your body in tip-top condition without using supplements that predispose you to potential doping violations. It is a delicate balancing act.

One way of going around it is to be aware of the complexities surrounding cannabinoids and WADA. For the avoidance of doubt, all cannabinoids (except CBD) and other marijuana compounds are prohibited in competitions. So, tough luck arguing that Cannabigerol (CBG) or cannabinol (CBN) is just as good as CBD!

If you absolutely have to use CBD products, here's what to do to minimize the risk of getting in trouble:

  • Get CBD products that have undergone a 3rd party testing 
  • Obtain the CBD product's certification, which includes the manufacturing process audit, the product's quality, and labeling evaluation to ensure it is accurate.
  • Check out the product's certificate of analysis (CoA)
  • Buy only from approved CBD brands. Leafreport is a leading online reviewer of CBD products and a valuable resource in this respect.

FOCL CBD products for athletes

Our Premium CBD Drops are made with simple, clean ingredients —hemp CBD and MCT oil—to help focus the mind, relax the body, support brain function, and improve memory. After an intense workout, this CBD oil helps you fall asleep faster and deeper, giving you the rest you need for fast recovery

For newbies just getting started on CBD, we recommend our Premium CBD Gummies. These are deliciously flavored to mask the grassy aftertaste while giving you a precise dose of 25 mg per gummy so you can accurately calculate your dose. These are ideal for relaxing throughout the day.

For those sore and achy muscles, try our Relief Cream, which packs 500 mg of CBD and powerful menthol, and soothing botanicals. These ingredients help recover and repair sore muscles and painful joints while inducing a cooling relief. Just wash the affected area and apply!

Our FOCL Day Capsules are the perfect blend of energetic adaptogens and high-quality hemp CBD. They are ideal for better cognitive performance, fighting fatigue, enhancing concentration, focus, and memory, and helping you stay relaxed. These capsules can also help boost your mood.


Final thoughts

CBD may have been de-listed as a prohibited performance-enhancing substance by WADA, but you still need to exercise caution when using it. Ideally, seek guidance from your physician before buying CBD oil or supplements. That's because, besides the usual doping concerns, CBD can also interact with other medications.