Medicinal Cannabis in Sport
Cannabis is a controlled Class B drug in the UK, and it is composed of different types of cannabinoids. These include Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD vs. THC
CBD is one of the most prominent cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. It does not produce any psychoactive effects like THC does – meaning it won’t get you “high”. Athletes may use CBD to help with pain relief, inflammation, anxiety and sleep disorders.
CBD is legal in most countries, and it is not considered a performance-enhancing substance. CBD is not a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List, so athletes can use CBD products for therapeutic or medicinal purposes at any time.
On the other hand, THC, or Delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the primary psychotropic chemical found in cannabis and produces the “high” associated with cannabis use due to its psychoactive properties. However, it also has medicinal benefits, such as reducing nausea and providing relief from pain.
What are the cannabis exemptions in sports for athletes prescribed cannabis for medicinalreasons?
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List is a list of banned substances and methods that are prohibited in sport. The list includes natural and synthetic cannabinoids, which are banned in competition only.
In competition THC use is prohibited, and if the carboxy-THC levels of an athlete’s urine exceed 150 ng/mL, it will be reported as an Adverse Analytical Finding by WADA-accredited laboratories. This threshold was increased from 15 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL in 2013 to help reduce the number of AAFs caused by potential THC use out-of-competition. As a result of this change, athletes who have consumed significant amounts of THC in close proximity to a doping control test, or who are chronic users, have the highest risk of testing positive. Medically prescribed cannabis generally contains THC, and athletes taking medical cannabis are also likely to test positive.
To avoid sanctions, athletes prescribed cannabis for medicinal purposes must apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the relevant international or national sports governing body. The athlete must prove that their therapeutic use of cannabis is necessary and justified, as well as show there is no other reasonable alternative to manage their condition.
If approved, the athlete is then able to use cannabis for medicinal purposes without receiving a sanction from the governing body.
What are the benefits of having medical cannabis exemptions in sport?
Having medical cannabis exemptions in sport allows athletes to access the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without fear of penalty or punishment. This provides them with an alternative form of treatment for conditions such as chronic pain, mental health issues, and other illnesses that may not be adequately treated by traditional pharmaceuticals.