Cannabis in Sport

The Government of Canada legalized cannabis in October 2018. Athletes subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) must be aware that this does not affect the status of cannabis in sport. Cannabis continues to be a prohibited substance and a positive test can still result in a sanction.

What is the status of cannabis following legalization?

Cannabis continues to be listed as Prohibited In Competition on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s Prohibited List. This can be verified via the Global DRO.

It’s legal in Canada, why is it still prohibited in sport?

The CADP adheres to WADA’s Prohibited List, which is an international standard under the World Anti-Doping Code. Despite Canada’s position on cannabis, the global anti-doping community has maintained cannabis on the Prohibited List.

Why are cannabinoids prohibited?

All prohibited substances are added to the Prohibited List because they meet two of the three following criteria:

• Use of the substance has the potential to enhance performance;
• Use of the substance can cause harm to the health of the athlete; and
• Use of the substance violates the spirit of sport.

While the CCES does not view cannabis as particularly performance enhancing, we do have anecdotal accounts of athletes using it therapeutically with the intent to improve performance or recovery by managing pain, stress, or anxiety.

While cannabis has therapeutic uses, habitual use or abuse presents the potential for harm, especially for younger athletes.

Impairment during competition presents a liability to the safety of the athlete and their competitors.

Finally, given that cannabis is prohibited in competition, we encourage athletes to demonstrate respect for their teammates, their opponents, and their sport by competing clean, clear, and sober.

What does cannabis’s status as a threshold substance mean?

The threshold means that if cannabinoids are detected in an athlete’s sample below a specific concentration, it will not be reported and a violation for presence will not be asserted.

This threshold is not meant to permit frequent, habitual, or in-competition use.

Despite the threshold, positive tests for cannabis are still frequent.

What does this mean for legal recreational use?

Like other prohibited recreational drugs, athletes should use discretion and judgement when deciding whether to use legal cannabis. Athletes will be held strictly liable for any prohibited substance that is found in their sample.

What does this mean for legal medical marijuana?

Athletes should always work with their physicians to explore non-prohibited alternatives to prohibited medications. Where no alternative is available or effective, or a physician determines that cannabis or a cannabis derivative is the most appropriate course of treatment, athletes should apply for a medical exemption. Refer to the Medical Exemption Wizard to determine your requirements.

Athletes should be aware that there is no guarantee that a medical exemption will be granted.

What about CBD oil?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis. As of 2018, WADA no longer lists CBD as a prohibited substance. We would like to remind athletes that CBD oil often still contains some concentration of the banned substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Therefore, the use of CBD oil is at an athlete’s own risk.

How long does it take for THC to clear my system?

There is no simple answer for this. Different strains of cannabis have different concentrations of THC. This means that consuming the same amount of different strains can result in differing doses, and therefore different clearance times and different concentrations shown in a drug test.

THC is fat soluble, which means that it can be stored in the body for a long period of time and released slowly, although not consistently, depending on an individual’s metabolism.

Finally, frequency of use is another factor. Regular users will have longer clearance times than casual or infrequent users.

How can athletes minimize the risk of a doping violation?

As with all prohibited substances, athletes can avoid violations by abstaining from cannabis use during their athletic careers.

Aside from abstinence, there is no way to entirely avoid the possibility of a violation; however, athletes may be able to reduce their risk with the following actions:

• Consider medical alternatives to medical marijuana;
• If medical marijuana is a necessary therapy, apply for a medical exemption as necessary;
• Ensure that non-medical consumption is not habitual or abusive;
• Ensure that consumption is outside of a competition period; and
• Ensure that consumption is a minimum of 30 days before the start of a competition period.

Individual clearance times and the concentration of THC may vary, so this approach to preventing an anti-doping rule violation is not a certainty.

Remember, athletes are strictly liable for any prohibited substance found in their sample.

Can the CCES tell me the clearance time of my medical marijuana strain?

No. The CCES cannot provide clearance times for any prohibited substance, including marijuana or cannabis.

What documents are required for a medical exemption for cannabis?

Some of the items required in a medical file for medical marijuana include:

• A comprehensive medical history related to the diagnosis;
• The results of a complete medical evaluation and a detailed letter from the prescribing physician; and
• A completed Medical Document Authorizing the use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.

Always consult the Medical Exemption Wizard on the CCES website when applying for a medical exemption. This will tell you when to apply, who to apply to, and what kind of exemption to apply for.

Where can I find more health information about cannabis?

Additional information can be found on Health Canada’s Consumer Information page about cannabis.
I have other questions about cannabis in sport and/or medical exemptions.

Content used with permission from Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). For other inquiries related to cannabis’ status or other medical inquiries, please refer to cces.ca/cannabis or contact substances@cces.ca.