The popularity of cannabidiol (CBD), one of the many cannabinoids found in the Cannabis Sativa plant, has increased exponentially, with a growing number of products containing CBD appearing on the market in a wide range of forms, such as oils, supplements and drinks. Despite the regulatory uncertainty surrounding these products, they are becoming more widely available and increasingly popular among consumers, including gym goers and professional athletes alike. Some sporting stars and teams are even creating their own CBD lines. However, there are some reports that athletes are already failing doping tests after consuming these products.

ESSNA would like to raise awareness on some risks for athletes associated with the use of these products and invites its members to consider the risks involved with the use of CBD in sports, as outlined in the below guidance document.

Potential risk for athletes

Paragraph 2.2.1. of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code states that ‘it is each athlete’s personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his or her body… Accordingly, it is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or knowing use on the athlete’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an anti-doping rule violation for use of a prohibited substance.’

This paragraph declares that if any of the substances declared prohibited by WADA enter an athlete’s body – even if inadvertently – this will result on an anti-doping rule violation for the use of a prohibited substance.

The above mentioned prohibited substances and methods are listed in WADA’s Prohibited List. According to this list, Cannabinoids, such as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabimimetics, are prohibited competition. CBD was removed from the list of prohibited substances in 2018, but this does not equal approval of the substance. Moreover, a warning in WADA’s website explains that ‘CBD extracted from the cannabis plant may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance.’

In other words, it is difficult to extract CBD from the cannabis plant without any traces of other cannabinoids, such as THC, being found in the final product. Moreover, there are risks of cross contamination in manufacturing facilities if CBD products are produced in such environments.

The list of prohibited substances does not refer to the decision limit levels for cannabinoids. A decision limit is a concentration, accounting for the maximum permitted combined uncertainty, above which a WADA- accredited laboratory should report an adverse analytical finding. According to a technical document published by WADA, the decision limit for carboxy-THC is 180ng/mL, but further clarification from WADA is required regarding other cannabinoids.

ESSNA’s guidance

ESSNA advises that athletes carefully consider the risk of doping if they consume CBD-based products while competing. It is ESSNA’s view that even if CBD is not considered a prohibited substance, the risk of traces from other cannabinoids entering athletes’ bodies after using CBD containing products is too high to be ignored.

ESSNA also advises that manufacturers of sports nutrition products assess the risk of cross contamination if CBD-based products are present in their production environment or in storage facilities.