Sports medicine doctors have “favorable” views of CBD and marijuana, according to a new study published by Translational Sports Medicine. The majority of the 333 doctors believe that marijuana should be removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. 

The study, conducted earlier this month, found that 72% of sports medicine doctors back WADA’s decision to remove cannabidiol from its prohibited substance list in 2018. Furthermore, 59% would approve of the organization removing marijuana from the prohibited substance list altogether. 

“Many sports medicine providers are recommending CBD and cannabis products,” wrote the three authors of the study. “This advancing cultural shift motivates ongoing research and education for sports medicine providers to better answer questions posed by athletes about the safety, dosing, and potential effects of CBD and cannabis in sports.”

The survey concluded that doctors are primarily recommending CBD and cannabis products for chronic musculoskeletal and neurological pain, while very few are recommending marijuana products for sufferers of sports anxiety or sport-related concussions. Study participants also clearly preferred recommending CBD products over cannabis products. The survey’s conductors inferred that the preference for CBD treatments over cannabis treatments may be due to marketing and cultural biases rather than scientific evidence. 

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“It is important to note that the ergogenic versus ergolytic effects of CBD compared to cannabis are still largely unknown,” the authors wrote, “therefore, these perceptual differences can largely, if not exclusively, be attributed to marketing and advertising. In addition, one must recognize the seemingly ubiquitous addition of CBD to countless consumer products, which may also contribute to this evolving distinction.” They also cited CBD’s lack of intoxicating effects and “general infiltration” into widely consumed products as reasons for doctors seeing CBD as safer than products containing THC. 

Participants appeared biased based on outside factors like gender, place of residence, and age. Women, doctors in more rural areas, and older doctors were all more likely to be opposed to recommending CBD and cannabis products for treatment. These three factors also contributed to whether the doctor approved of WADA removing CBD from their list of banned substances. In addition, pediatricians and academic physicians were less likely to recommend the use of CBD or cannabis products. Male physicians and younger physicians were less likely to disapprove of WADA’s decision and to identify marijuana as a “performance-enhancing” drug.

The general attitude towards marijuana use by professional and college athletes has changed drastically over the past few years. Runner Sha’Carri Richardson’s exclusion from competing in the Olympic games due to a positive marijuana test catapulted the issue into the global conversation in 2021. Her athletic performance was clearly not affected by marijuana use, and being barred from competing caused outrage among sports fans everywhere. WADA conducted a year-long review of its marijuana policies but ultimately decided to uphold its ban on marijuana in 2022. However, the organization did raise the acceptable amount of THC found in an athlete’s urine outside of competitions. 

“Because of these high thresholds, primarily chronic, frequent cannabis users and athletes consuming high doses in-competition will be detected. Therefore, the cut-off generally will not affect the freedom of an athlete who wishes to legally consume cannabis outside of competition,” the group said regarding this decision. “Athletes who have a need for medicinal cannabis should request a therapeutic use exemption.”