Frequently asked questions about Cannabis

Tuesday - January 08th 2019

1. Why is cannabis a banned substance in sport?
2. But cannabis is legal in several other countries, why is it still banned in sport?
3. What if I’m around other people who are smoking cannabis?
4. Do low levels of cannabis trigger a positive test?
5. Does this include synthetic cannabis?
6. What about Cannabidiol – CBD?
7. How long does it take for THC to clear my system?
8. How can I avoid having a positive test?
9. What about products containing cannabis, such as skin creams?
10. What about other recreational drugs?
11. Does Drug Free Sport New Zealand think that Cannabis should be legal in New Zealand?

1. Why is cannabis a banned substance in sport?
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) decides what substances are banned as WADA sets the Prohibited List, and cannabis has been on that list for a long time.  Our role at DFSNZ is to influence WADA as to what goes on the list, or comes off it.

DFSNZ has been consistent in its annual submissions to WADA asking for cannabis to be removed from the Prohibited List.  Our internal research, external advice and wider consultation with the medical and sporting community in New Zealand is that there is no evidence that cannabis is performance-enhancing.  

In the past five years Drug Free Sport NZ have established over 60 athlete doping rule violations in NZ.  Four of these were related to recreational drugs: three for cannabis use and one for methamphetamine.  So the number of athletes penalised for recreational drugs in NZ is low. 

Drug Free Sport NZ will continue to petition WADA to change its approach to recreational drugs, but in the meantime athletes should avoid using cannabis as it’s currently prohibited in sport.

2. But cannabis is legal in several other countries, why is it still banned in sport?
Legality is a different issue to whether or not it is permitted in sport.  Drug Free Sport NZ complies with the World Anti-Doping Code and that includes the Prohibited List.  Substances are included on the Prohibited List if 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.

The global anti-doping community has kept cannabis on the Prohibited List, so athletes should avoid using cannabis.

3. What if I’m around other people who are smoking cannabis?
Passive inhalation of cannabis or other drugs is unlikely to result in a positive test.

4. Do low levels of cannabis trigger a positive test?
WADA requires that labs do not report and anti-doping organizations not pursue action against low concentrations of cannabis in an athlete’s sample.  However, even with this threshold in place, there continue to be in-competition violations for cannabis each year.  This threshold is not meant to permit frequent, habitual, or in-competition use.

Positive test results can occur through multiple cannabis products and methods other than smoking. Other methods of inhalation or ingestion can greatly influence results and can be detectable for long periods of time. Regular users of cannabis have much longer detection windows than users who consume occasionally.

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

5. Does this include synthetic cannabis?
Yes.  Cannabis and all its synthetic forms are prohibited in-competition.

6. What about Cannabidiol – CBD?
Cannabis contains substances called cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a major cannabinoid and is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, however, it is only one many cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis – commonly referred to as cannabis without THC. CBD is used in a medical setting, assisting to alleviate multiple sclerosis pain and certain types of epilepsy.  It does not have the intoxicating effects of THC and hence is not prohibited in-competition by WADA. Caution is required with cannabidiol goods as THC can be added in certain products.

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.

7. 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.

8. How can I avoid having a positive test?
The only way to 100% avoid a positive test is by not using.  There’s no way to be sure, unless your use was a really long time before the test occurs. Again, we don’t know what the timeline might be for a given individual. 

9. What about products containing cannabis, such as skin creams?
Skin creams are unlikely to contain sufficient cannabis to result in a positive test. 

Certain cannabis products are legal and can be regularly purchased, such as hemp oils and hemp containing foods.

10. What about other recreational drugs?
Other recreational drugs such as cocaine, BZP (Benzylpiperazine) and amphetamines are also prohibited in-competition. 

11. Does Drug Free Sport New Zealand think that Cannabis should be legal in New Zealand?
We have no position on the issue of cannabis legalisation in NZ.  We’re about clean athletes playing clean sport.  Our role is to support clean athletes, to consistently apply the World Anti-Doping Code, and to ensure that international athletes are held to the same high ethical standards as our Kiwi athletes.