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Health and Wellness

Athletics and CBD

What is CBD? Is it legal for athletes?  
Written by the Theralogix team of Registered Dietitians
Get the scoop on athletics and CBD so you can make safe, well-informed decisions in your athletic career.   

Most athletes follow rigorous training schedules, fuel their bodies with a balanced diet, and sacrifice years of their lives for the sport they love. But they don’t stop there. Many have also turned to dietary supplements to help support athletic recovery and optimal sports performance.* 

As cannabidiol (CBD) becomes more and more mainstream, it’s starting to trickle into the athletic world too, raising several questions about CBD and the role it can play in athletics. What is CBD? Is it legal for athletes? How do athletes choose a trusted CBD product? Get the scoop on athletics and CBD so you can make safe, well-informed decisions in your athletic career.  

What is CBD?  

CBD is a compound found in the Cannabis sativa plant. There are two main varieties of this plant: hemp and marijuana.  

Hemp and marijuana both contain a variety of cannabinoids, but they have some important differences to keep in mind, especially for athletes. While marijuana contains primarily tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in cannabis responsible for making you feel “high,” hemp contains mostly CBD and very little THC. In fact, federal law dictates that hemp must contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.   

Is CBD legal for athletes?  

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed CBD from the list of prohibited substances in 2018. So, athletes are allowed to use CBD, even during competition season.  

However, marijuana and THC are still banned substances. Although most CBD products are derived from hemp, they may still contain small amounts of THC, and marijuana-derived CBD products likely harbor even higher levels.  

Does CBD come in different forms?  

You’ll find a variety of CBD products lining the shelves of your local pharmacy, convenience store, or grocery, and you’ll discover even more online. Most of these products contain hemp oil CBD in capsules or gummies, or infused into topical products like lotions, creams, or salves.  

There are three main types of hemp oil CBD:  

Full-spectrum hemp oil. This type of hemp oil provides all the compounds found in hemp – CBD, terpenes, other cannabinoids, and small amounts of THC.   

Broad-spectrum hemp oil. This type of hemp oil is similar to full-spectrum hemp oil but usually does not contain detectable levels of THC.   

CBD isolate.These products contain only CBD and no other compounds from hemp.   

What should athletes look for in a hemp oil extract supplement?  

Research supporting the use of CBD for sports recovery is promising, which has led some athletes to seek out a CBD product they can trust.*  

Finding a safe-for-sport CBD product isn’t an easy feat, though. Several studies indicate that CBD products are often mislabeled, containing more or less CBD than they should. But that’s not even the biggest concern – THC contamination is a huge problem. The FDA tested 147 CBD products in 2020 and found that a frightening 49% of tested products contained detectable levels of THC.  

In general, dietary supplements aren’t required to undergo any testing before they hit the shelves. But if you’re an athlete looking for a hemp oil CBD product without THC, third-party testing and certification are your best bet. NSF® International, one of the world leaders in dietary supplement testing and certification, recently developed a program for testing and certifying hemp products. This certification helps ensure that the actual CBD content of your product matches the label claim and that it contains a non-detectable level of THC.  

What’s the difference between an NSF® certified product and an NSF Certified for Sport® product?  

NSF International developed the first independent dietary supplement testing and certification program in 2003, and they’ve been giving consumers extra peace of mind ever since. Now, they have two main dietary supplement testing programs – the original NSF dietary supplement program and the NSF Certified for Sport® program. The differences are slight, but important for athletes to consider.  

NSF Certification Program 

Products that bear the NSF mark are tested for content accuracy and purity, which ensures that what’s in the bottle matches the supplement facts label, and that there are no harmful contaminants, like bacteria, fungus, or heavy metals. That’s enough peace of mind for most people, but athletes have a few more concerns.  

NSF Certified for Sport® Program 

NSF Certified for Sport® is a program dedicated to helping athletes, coaches, and sports dietitians around the world make safe, well-informed decisions when it comes to dietary supplements. This program still tests for content accuracy and purity, but goes above and beyond to ensure that products that display the Certified for Sport mark are free of prohibited athletic substances, masking agents, and other undeclared ingredients. NSF screens these supplements for 280 substances banned by most athletic organizations and tests every single batch before they hit the shelves. Certified for Sport is the only independent third-party certification program recognized by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).  

As an athlete, you spend years honing your skills, putting in countless hours of training to be the very best. Make sure every bit of your success is attributed to your hard work – and nothing else. If you’re thinking about adding CBD to your athletic supplement routine, be sure to maintain your athletic integrity by choosing a high-quality product that’s been tested for banned substances.