Cannabis Science, CBD

Marijuana in Sports: CBD For Athletes

Marijuana in Sports: CBD For Athletes

Cannabidiol, otherwise known as CBD is one of the many compounds found in marijuana. CBD has been known to treat different types of childhood epilepsy and is believed to be a pain reliever. CBD has shown promising results in studies regarding the treatment of insomnia, social anxiety disorder, and multiple sclerosis among other conditions.

Feature photo source: Unsplash

If you’re an athlete, you may be wondering if you’re even allowed to take CBD. After all, there is a long list of drugs that athletes are simply not allowed to take. Did you know that in 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances? That means that athletes can use CBD without getting into any trouble. However, according to Healthline, THC is still prohibited. According to the article, “most major sports leagues and athletic organizations, with the recent exception of Major League Baseball, still prohibit the use of THC.” 

Can CBD provide any benefits to athletes anyway?

According to Train Right, there are several benefits that athletes could get from using CBD.

Pain Management 

According to Train Right, CBD may be able to operate as a pain reliever for athletes. The article said CBD can relieve “musculoskeletal pain from exercise, as well as stiff joints.” According to a 2018 review, cannabinoids appear to be effective in pain management. The study says, “cannabinoids (plant-derived, synthetic) themselves or endocannabinoid-directed therapeutic strategies have been shown to be effective in different animal models of pain (acute nociceptive, neuropathic, inflammatory). However, medical cannabis is not equally effective against all types of pain in humans.”.

Healthline says that CBD can be used by athletes participating in intense exercise to relieve pain. 

Reduces Inflammation

Train Right said that while a little inflammation may be good for athletes, excessive inflammation can “hinder recovery and hurts performance”. According to the article, CBD should bind to CB2 receptors which will reduce the response caused by your immune system after a workout. The article says, “cannabinoids binding to CB2 receptors may have an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing cytokine (cell messengers) production.”

Healthline also agrees that CBD can reduce inflammation for athletes. Their article said, “research suggests that CBD shows promise in helping relieve pain and reduce inflammation, which could be useful for athletes participating in intense exercise.”

According to Future Medicinal Chemistry, cannabinoids suppress inflammatory response.

Gives You Better Sleep

According to Train Right, “getting more and better sleep is one of the most effective ways an athlete can achieve greater training gains.” Evidently, sleep is very important to athletes. The article said that athletes who use CBD fall asleep better and have a better night’s sleep overall. 

According to a Harvard article, “CBD may help with both falling asleep and staying asleep.”

Alternative to NSAIDs

According to Train Right, athletes can use CBD to replace non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil and Aleve. According to a study, “NSAIDs are widely used by athletes to treat banal disorders such as cold, flu, and moderate pain, to improve healing time, and to alleviate pain, swelling, and disability associated with injury or contusions, decreasing the amount of time missed from sports competition.”

The study also went on to say that NSAIDs may have adverse effects such as:

  • gastric injury 
  • gastric ulceration 
  • renal damage
  • Increased risk of bleeding 

According to Jack Isler, MD, “data shows us that pure CBD oil could improve the way NSAIDs act and that it could potentially be a better substance to use for pain and inflammation altogether.”

Therefore, CBD may be able to replace NSAIDs or make them work better. 

Are There Are Negative Side Effects for Athletes?

Naturally, with everything there are risks. According to Healthline CBD may cause the following side effects:

  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • changes in weight
  • changes in appetite
  • may increase risk of liver toxicity

There is evidence that CBD may interact with drugs. According to a study, “there are also indications that CBD inhibits the hepatic enzyme CYP2C9, reducing the metabolization of warfarin and diclofenac”

Can Athletes Fail a Drug Test Using CBD?

Yes. As mentioned before THC is banned. According to the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the following cannabinoids are prohibited:

  • Natural cannabinoids, e.g. cannabis, hashish and marijuana
  • Synthetic cannabinoids, e.g. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabimimetics

UADA continued by saying, “all other cannabinoids are prohibited in-competition at any presence level and do not have a reporting threshold. The presence of any amount in your system during the in-competition period is prohibited”

The reason why it’s important to note that even though we’re discussing CBD is because many CBD products end up having THC (and other compounds) in it. Even though some products claim not to have THC, they often contain trace amount. USADA cited a study that concluded that 69% of the products had different amounts of CBD than what was advertised. In addition to that, 21% of the product had THC and had levels that could have caused impairment. 

According to Train Right, “WADA set a urinary threshold of 150 nanograms per milliliter for THC”. Therefore if you exceed that then you would have failed your drug test. The article went on to say that WADA is mostly concerned about usage on the day of the competition. According to Ben Nichols, a spokesperson for WADA, “Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption. The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition.”

How Do I Ensure that the CBD is Pure?

According to USADA, you should just assume that the CBD product you’re using has other compounds. The organization said “athletes should assume that CBD products are probably mixtures of CBD and other prohibited cannabinoids, including THC, CBN, CBG, etc.” They continued, “ Depending on whether the CBD was extracted from a high-THC plant (more than 0.3% THC, or marijuana) or a low-THC plant (less than 0.3 percent or hemp), different CBD preparations could have differing levels of THC.”

According to Healthline, having a reliable source for your CBD is important. The article said, “the risk increases if you take CBD from an unreliable source, as it may be contaminated or mislabeled.” Healthline also suggests that you avoid using CBD before your drug test. They say if you do choose to use it, read your label and do your research. Ideally, you’re looking for something with PURE CBD such as a CBD isolate.

If the other compounds in the CBD are low enough then you’ll also be okay. In addition to that, if enough time has passed you will likely pass your test. USADA says “if an athlete happens to get a CBD oil that is very low in THC and other cannabinoids, or if they stop using a product in time to help ensure that any THC or other cannabinoids are cleared from their body, then the use of a CBD product will not cause the athlete to incur an anti-doping rule violation”

USADA went on to say that athletes use CBD at their own risk. 

How Can Athletes Use CBD Safely?

Train Right said that CBD could be used in the following ways:

  • capsules
  •  pills
  •  oil. 
  •  vapor
  • sports drinks
  • recovery drinks
  • edibles. 
  • topical creams
  • lotions 
  • tinctures/drops placed under your tongue.

Healthline says CBD can be used as:

  • CBD coffees
  • pre-workout drinks
  • muscle balms.

Healthline suggests that if you’re new to CBD opt for a low dose and avoid using before a workout or competition. However after you’re comfortable Healthline says, “you can start to use higher doses and consider taking it before or even during physical activity”


Even though CBD has more room for research, it seems that athletes may find this compound useful, particularly for pain and inflammation. Athletes just have to be cautious of where they’re getting their CBD from because of mislabelling. Since other cannabinoids are prohibited, if an athlete gets a CBD product with too much of the other cannabinoids then they could find themselves in trouble when it’s time to do a test. The best thing to do is avoid it before blood tests or make sure you get pure CBD from a reliable source. In addition to that, athletes have to be careful using it and other forms of medication. The bottom line is CBD usage poses risks but depending on the person and the product the reward may outweigh the risk.


About Trevann

Trevann is Stoner Rotation’s Jamaica-based lead writer for the Science section of our cannabis blog. She graduated with honors receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from the University of West Indies, Mona. For the last three years, she has covered some of the biggest questions around cannabis and health underpinned with research from supporting studies, medical journals and scholarly articles. Got something on your mind? You can reach her at [email protected].