What Athletes Should Know About CBD Cannabidiol and Drug Tests

What Athletes Should Know About CBD Cannabidiol and Drug Tests

Performing athletes are not immune to the same issues that plague everyone else. Over and above the headaches, stress, and insomnia, they are highly vulnerable to joint pain and inflammation.

Since 2018, CBD can legally be sold over the counter and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has removed it from the list of prohibited substances. Researchers can now openly study the benefits of CBD and everyone is anticipating what properties are still to be discovered.

CBD’s popularity has exploded to the point where everyone is trying it but many athletes are still skeptical about using it for fear of how it will affect their drug screening tests.

This is an informative guide to all the facts as they are known up until now.

What exactly is CBD?

CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant and has been the most studied of all. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well known of the cannabinoids since it is the one that gives the psychoactive effects or “high”,  as it’s commonly known.

Both CBD and THC are linked with pain relief and other aiding other medical conditions, but CBD is legal and offers far more health benefits.

How does CBD work?

The endocannabinoid system was discovered by scientists in the 1990s while trying to figure out how cannabis affects the body. This is now known to be the most important physiological system which regulates most the body’s functions through endocannabinoids produced by the body. Two types of receptors are present in the organs, connective tissues, glands, immune system, and elsewhere and they distribute the endocannabinoids. If the body is not producing enough there are disruptions within system, leading to a wide range of ailments.

The cannabinoids in CBD assist the body to make better use of its own endocannabinoids by stimulating them thereby, offering relief for so many problems.

Why athletes consider using CBD?

Athletes have grueling training programs, followed by competitions and matches. CBD has not been proven to be a performance enhancer, but it can aid athletes to overcome nervousness and most importantly it helps to alleviate pain and inflammation. Many athletes attest to how CBD helps speed up their recovery time and there are indications that its anti-inflammatory properties could help in reducing the severity of traumatic brain injuries suffered by athletes in high-impact sports.

So far, studies have found that CBD acts on cannabinoid receptors and exerts analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. CBD, in these studies, does not seem to have any negative effects, unlike the long term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which include digestive issues, insomnia, and headaches.

Unlike NSAIDs and paracetamol, which act as pain suppressants, CBD binds directly to the receptors that are located in the area where the pain or inflammation is.

Even though this research is still in its early stages, the fact that CBD can help with inflammation seems to indicate that it may also assist with immunity, offering athletes an added protection.

In their 2018 research paper, Petrosino et.al published their findings on how the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol stimulate the levels of AEA and reverse inflammation in cells.

CBD and Drug Tests

Drug screening tests are a huge concern for most athletes since they are required to pass them or face disqualification. The purpose of drug tests is to find if illegal substances are present. Marijuana is considered to be an illegal substance, so athletes who use CBD cannot use a product that has any trace of THC. Even though the testers are not looking for CBD use, any traces of THC in the CBD will show up.

Drug screening tests and how they work

The most common tests used to detect drugs are urine tests because they are low cost, convenient and pain-free. These tests detect prescription and illegal drugs and are performed on athletes to ensure that they are not trying to enhance their performance.

Two types of tests are used, the immunoassay test and the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry test (GC/MS).

The immunoassay test gives instant results and is cheaper, but is known to give false positives. The test measures the antigen-antibody complexes from any drugs present in the immune system in nanograms/milliliter (ng/ml). If the urine sample, done with a strip test, exceeds the limit it is considered a positive result.

Even though the GC/MS test requires a longer period of waiting time, the results are mostly true positives. The two tests work together and the GC separates various components in the urine to identify them and the MS classifies ions on their mass. The quantities of chemicals are then compared to a clean sample.

In the event of false positives from the immunoassay test, athletes often request a GC/MS screening.

Full Spectrum CBD versus Isolate CBD

When a full spectrum CBD product is taken, there is a chance that the THC will show up because the CBD has been extracted from the seeds and stems of hemp plants. The major ingredient in this extract is the CBD, but it will also include terpenes and other cannabinoids, including less than 0.3% THC. Even though the level of 0.3% is not enough to have a psychoactive effect, it does appear on drug tests. The WADA raised the urinary threshold of THC in January 2018 so it is advisable that athletes avoid using full spectrum CBD products unless the THC has been completely removed.

The CBD isolate is the result of the process that removes it from the other compounds. There is still the likelihood that very small traces of THC and other compounds will be found in the isolate and therefore, it is almost pure. It is important that the label of the product chosen should say that it contains 99.9% CBD as at that percentage it is highly unlikely to be discernible in a drug test. Anything higher than that is already too much.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to guarantee that an athlete won’t have a positive drug test, even form pure isolate products. Therefore, it is recommended that CBD substances should not be used for 10 days before the drug screening unless they are completely THC free.

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