Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Drug Free Sport Staff Writers

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Regulatory Limits of Hemp and CBD Products for Drug Tested Athletes

Contributed by Guest Blogger Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS


Recently, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) pulled cannabidiol (CBD) from the 2018 Prohibited Substance List. Previously, it was illegal for Olympic athletes to use hemp products and isolates from hemp-like CBDs (1).  Literally within 48 hours of WADA releasing the news of CBD’s new permissible status, some of the bigger players in the CBD supplement space began to target drug-tested athletes.  Many of these companies make claims that some of their CBD extracts are 100% THC-free, and in compliance with WADA testing standards for THC. Yet, studies show significant inaccuracies on label claims including the actual amount of CBD found in products, and the presence of THC (2,3).

We have no credible third-party certifying agencies that can currently ensure that every batch of a CBD extract is truly THC-free.  Skip lot testing (as often used for dietary supplements) on THC levels in CBD products is not going to be good enough for drug-tested athletes, and the folks doing the testing will have to be free of any conflicts of interest with the hemp industry. 

There are no federal guidelines that determine label claim qualifications for products promoted as being “THC free.”  One company making THC claims states that they are in compliance with WADA’s “strict testing regulations” for THC by not exceeding 0.3% THC in the product. 

Like caffeine, not everyone metabolizes cannabinoids the same (4).  Even in small amounts, increased frequency of use may well accumulate THC to the point of detection by a drug test. Athletes who are drawn to CBDs as an intervention for pain, concussions, sleep, immune health, etc., must proceed with caution. 

Some professional sports still consider CBD a prohibited substance. While most don’t specifically test for CBD, they do not fund or supply any hemp-based products to athletes, due to the lack of credible assurances or third-party verification that each batch of the product is truly THC-free.
Athletes are advised extreme caution when considering these unregulated and untested CBD products.

1. Summary of Major Modifications and Explanatory Notes – 2018 WADA Prohibited List

2. Bonn-Miller, MO, Mallory JE Loflin, Brian F Thomas, et al. “Labeling Accuracy of Cannabidiol Extracts Sold Online.” JAMA. 2017;318(17):1708-1709.

3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Warning Letters and Test Results for Cannabidiol-Related Products.” 2015-2017. https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm484109.htm. Updated Nov 2, 2017.

4. Hawks, Richard L. The analysis of cannabinoids in biological fluids. Vol. 42. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1982.

Dave Ellis is a Veteran Sports RD who specializes in food and supplement security for drug tested athletes. His full bio and professional work can be found at daveellisbio.com.