In the beginning of 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD (cannabidiol) from their banned substances list. The change encouraged other sports organizations to understand and educate themselves on the rules of CBD. We know cannabis is a banned substance in sports, but since CBD is legal and it’s not on WADA’s banned substances list, how do other sports organizations handle it?
CBD is a compound derived from the cannabis family of plants, and when CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, it contains less than 0.3% THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis, known to give users a high. CBD does not produce euphoria and in fact, is showing to be a very therapeutic compound that possesses an array of health benefits. CBD is legal in the U.S. provided that it is sourced under the guidelines in the newly updated Farm Bill.
NCAA: A Recommendation for Change
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a major regulator for athletes in over 1,000 different organizations, institutions, and conferences. This organization is known for having very strict cannabis testing thresholds, not only compared to other sports leagues but also employers, like the U.S. military.
Though CBD itself is not on the NCAA Banned Drug List, it does clearly state that “Any substance that is chemically related to one of the above classes, even if it is not listed as an example, is also banned. Since CBD is chemically related to THC, it is presumably considered a banned substance.
In December 2017, the NCAA recommended a modification to their rules. They suggested limiting the restricted cannabinoids to just marijuana. The recommendation has not yet moved forward, however with a growing amount of cannabidiol research, it is hoped that a change will be made in the near future.
WADA: No Longer A Prohibited Substance
In 2016, UFC fighter Nate Diaz spoke openly at a post-fight press conference about vaping CBD. After his comments, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) gave Diaz a warning for using a “banned substance”.
However, in early 2018, the WADA removed CBD from their prohibited substance list, allowing any and all athletes to have a platform to speak openly about their CBD use, without backlash from the WADA.
Could there be a Cannabis/CBD reform be in the near future? Some leagues are open while others continue to take a firm stance against it.
NHL: CBD Not Listed as a Banned Substance
Hockey is a full-contact sport filled with fights on the ice that are sure to draw in large crowds. Team doctors for the NHL respond to these bumps and bangs by prescribing painkillers that can sometimes cause more damage than healing.
There is no penalty or disciplinary action taken for NHL players who use cannabinoids like CBD. However, if high levels of cannabinoids are found in their system, the player must undergo a mandatory check-up from a doctor.
Currently, cannabidiol is not on the NHL’s list of banned substances, nor is it considered a performance enhancer, but the league has also not given CBD the green light. Players are tested for cannabinoids like CBD under the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.
NFL: Players Speak Out
Just like the NHL, NFL players are hit and hurt on a consistent basis. Most NFL players are prescribed opiates and NSAIDS (anti-inflammatory medications) that can cause addiction and damage to vital organs with long-term use.
According to the NFL Player’s Association’s Policy and Program on Substance of Abuse, cannabis is considered a banned substance at 35ng/mL. The Policy does not specifically state that CBD is banned at this level, however, CBD is still considered a cannabinoid from cannabis, which is banned.
There are many NFL players (active and retired) who are now speaking out for a push in research in regards to medicinal cannabis and CBD.
MLB: Lenient on CBD
In 2002, the Major League Baseball and the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association) initiated a Joint Drug Agreement. While the agreement’s primary focus is on performance enhancing drugs and not CBD, CBD is still on the list of drugs of abuse.
It seems like the rules for using cannabinoids like CBD are laxed in MLB, and other sports organizations can look to this organization for guidance on how to move forward and remove cannabinoids from the banned substances list.
NBA: Looking into the Solution
CBD is considered to be a component of cannabis and it’s been on the banned substance list in the NBA for 20 years (since 1999)..
Treatment and testing will occur before a player is fined. If a player offends a second time, they may have to pay a fine of $25,000. While CBD does not get you high or enhance a player’s performance like other drugs, it is still considered a banned substance.
It is hoped that CBD will be removed from these organization’s banned substances lists, which will be the first step in reforming cannabis policies in sports. CBD should be acknowledged as a separate compound derived from hemp, as opposed to cannabis. This outlook can provide players with a natural treatment to pain without the use of addictive opiates and painkillers. Now that CBD is legal in all 50 states, across North America, and even in Europe, shouldn’t organized sports leagues allow it too?