The past couple of years have been a whirlwind for cannabidiol (CBD), one of the major cannabinoids extracted from the hemp (marijuana) plant. Cannabis is perhaps most known for the psychoactive high its users experience after using it. THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound responsible for this high, but CBD has often been lumped together with its psychoactive cousin.
Demand for CBD products has boomed lately, primarily driven by consumers looking to alleviate a variety of medical conditions. Cannabidiol has proved efficient against diseases ranging from anxiety and chronic pain to epilepsy. In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its list of banned substances, thereby opening the door for elite athletes to use and endorse CBD products.
The USA Triathlon became the first national governing body of an American sport to conclude a deal with a company that trades CBD products. While the financial terms of the four year deal between the body and Colorado-based Pure Spectrum were undisclosed, the deal will help the USA Triathlon support the growth of the sport while keeping overheads low. Membership in the USA Triathlon declined 25% from 2013 -2018, and although there had been increased interest in the sport after the 2000 Olympics, membership waned over the years for a variety of reasons.
According to Rocky Harris, chief executive of the USA Triathlon, athletes at every level have embraced CBD, and the movement to embrace CBD among participants in the sport led the organization to determine the actual risks and benefits of CBD and whether the USA Triathlon could responsible pursue making money through a sponsorship deal with a CBD company. “We needed to be able to say if you use this product, you will not fail a drug test,” he says.
Besides the USA Triathlon, there have also been a few other sports organizations to join the fray; Ultimate Fighting Championship and Crossfit also have a relationship with a CBD company. Unlike privately owned athletic organizations that can make their own rules, national governing bodies for Olympic sports answer to a higher master. They have to follow all the WADA regulations and submit to the most intense drug testing protocols. This gives them a higher degree of risk when CBD is on the table compared to bodies such as the USA Triathlon. Some sports personalities have also established relationships with CBD corporations, including golfer Bubba Watts, skier Bode Miller, and tennis player John Isner.
Quality control is still an issue, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency encourages athletes considering to use CBD products to consult the USADA guidelines on their website. Danielle Eurich, a spokeswoman for the agency, says, “It’s very difficult to be 100% certain that CBD products do not contain THC.”
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