Cannabidiol still off WADA prohibited substances list

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The cannabinoid cannabidiol has again been explicitly left off the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.

The Prohibited List details substances and methods that are banned in sport. The list is updated annually based on scientific and medical research, trends, and intelligence sourced from law enforcement agencies and pharmaceutical companies.

In order for a substance or method to be added to WADA’s ban list, it needs to meet at least two of the following three criteria:

  • It has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance.
  • It represents an actual or potential health risk to the athletes.
  • It violates the spirit of sport.

According to the 2020 prohibited list, which was released on September 30:

“All natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited, e.g.

  • In cannabis (hashish, marijuana) and cannabis products
  • Natural and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs)
  • Synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC”

However, it also states one exception – cannabidiol (CBD), which is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

The explanatory notes warn athletes need to be aware some CBD products extracted from cannabis plants may also contain THC or other cannabinoids – and this could result in a positive test for cannabinoids that are prohibited. It’s a really important issue athletes need to be aware of given the explosion of CBD products now available and issues relating to quality control. Compounds such as THC can stay in the bloodstream for quite some time after using products containing it.

Athletes who have a legitimate medical reason for using a prohibited substance such as THC may be provided an exemption if they meet the criteria outlined in the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (ISTUE).

WADA originally removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances back in 2018, as did the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). In Australia, the Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority – ASADA – just observes the WADA list.

An increasing number of athletes are using cannabidiol for managing/treating pain and inflammation; in preference to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. While there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting its efficacy in helping athletes, there is little scientific evidence as yet.

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