The WADA Prohibited List schedules cannabinoids under section S8 as substances that are prohibited in-competition. Unless an athlete has an approved Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), the use of substances when they are prohibited in sport may lead to an anti-doping rule violation and sanction.
FAQs REGARDING CANNABINOIDS
WHAT ARE CANNABINOIDS? WHAT IS MARIJUANA?
Cannabinoids exert their action on the body by binding to the receptors that make up the endocannabinoid system. They modulate mood, movement, appetite, pain and sensation, memory, and perception.
When most people think of cannabinoids, they think of marijuana and other substances that come from the Cannabis sativa plant. The two cannabinoids that people are most familiar with are the naturally occurring tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is being explored for a variety of medicinal purposes. Both of these cannabinoids can be extracted from the cannabis plant, or they can be synthesized in a laboratory.
However, there are also many other cannabinoids. The cannabis plant produces 120 different cannabinoids that are unique and not found in any other plant. They can be split into several different types, including THC, cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabinodiol (CBND), cannabielsoin (CBE), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabitrol (CBT), and others.
There are also dozens of entirely synthetic, designer cannabinoids that are not found in nature, such as Spice/K2, JWH compounds, and others. They tend to be more potent and more toxic than naturally occurring cannabinoids, leading most governmental regulatory agencies to consider them illicit, toxic chemicals.
All synthetic and naturally occurring cannabinoids are prohibited in-competition, except for cannabidiol (CBD).
WHY ARE CANNADINOIDS ON THE PROHIBITED LIST?
For something to be added to the WADA Prohibited List, it must meet two of the three inclusion criteria: a) it poses a health risk to athletes b) it has the potential to enhance performance and c) it violates the spirit of sport.
In 2011, WADA published a paper in Sports Medicine discussing the reasons marijuana and cannabinoids meet the criteria. Below are excerpts from this publication that address the three criteria:
“Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in-competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.”
“Based on current animal and human studies as well as on interviews with athletes and information from the field, cannabis can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.”
“Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.
In 2019, WADA exempted cannabidiol (CBD) from this category. However, all other cannabinoids, whether natural or synthetic, are prohibited in-competition.
WHAT DOES A THRESHOLD FOR THC MEAN?
THC is the only cannabinoid for which there is a urinary threshold and it is set at 150 ng/mL. The threshold means there can be some THC in your system in-competition without it causing a positive test, as long as the concentration in the urine is below 150 ng/mL. If the level of THC in your urine goes above the threshold, then the labs report it as a positive test.
There are no threshold limits for any other cannabinoid (natural or synthetic). All other cannabinoids (except cannabidiol) are prohibited in-competition in any amount, including natural cannabinoids (e.g., cannabigerol, cannabichromene, cannabinol, and others) and synthetic cannabinoids (e.g., cannabinoid compounds denoted by the initials “JWH” and a number, HU-210, K2/Spice, AB-PINACA, and many others).
HOW LONG BEFORE A COMPETITION DO I HAVE TO STOP USING MARIJUANA OR OTHER CANNABINOIDS?
The time it takes for the substance and all of its metabolites to be completely eliminated from the body depends on many factors, including the particular cannabinoid, the dosage used, how often you use it, your weight, your overall metabolism, liver function, general health, and whether you are on other medications. Many cannabinoids accumulate in fat, and for chronic users, they can take weeks or months to clear completely from the body. An athlete using marijuana, or any other cannabinoid, should talk with their doctor about the clearance time for these substances.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH RISKS OF USING MARIJUANA OR OTHER CANNABINOIDS?
Marijuana (cannabis) use can have both short-term and long-term effects. In the short term, marijuana (specifically THC) causes a “high” that may include sedation, altered sense of awareness and time, changes in mood, impaired body movements and thinking, difficulty speaking or remembering, hallucinations, delusion, and psychosis. Long-term, chronic use of marijuana is associated with impaired thinking and memory, and even a loss of IQ among teenage users.
Other negative physical effects of smoking marijuana include dry mouth and throat, an increased resting heart rate, and the expansion of both lung passageways and blood vessels. Cannabis smoking can also produce rapid changes to heart rate, dizziness, and blood pressure.
Synthetic cannabinoids also pose a great risk to users and athletes. While synthetic cannabinoids may produce effects similar to marijuana, the severity is often greater than those produced by marijuana. When compared to THC, some of the compounds found in synthetic cannabinoids bind more strongly to receptors within the brain. This reaction could lead to potentially more powerful and unpredictable effects.
Since synthetic cannabinoid products may not list all of their ingredients on the packaging label, the effects of the product could also be different than what the user may expect. Consumption of these synthetic cannabinoids has resulted in numerous hospitalizations, and the drugs have been reported to cause hallucinations, increased heartbeat and blood pressure, aggressive behavior, anxiety, muscle spasms, nausea, and vomiting.
The use and production of synthetic cannabinoid products have increased over the past few years, with products sometimes marketed as herbal mixtures, incense, or potpourri. The packaging labels of these products may list only natural herbs as ingredients, but analysis has revealed that they contain synthetic cannabinoids.
WHAT IS THE LEGAL STATUS OF CANNABINS, CANNABINOIL AND OTHER CANNABINOIDS?
In year 2015 Sativex was approved for prescription use.
In March 2018, medical cannabis with a prescription was approved.
In December 2021 new rules on recreational use of cannabis were formally approved in parliament. 
HAS CANNABIS BEEN FULLY LEGALISED?
In 2015, the government depenalised the substance, removing penalties for its use as long as it was in small amounts.
Under those rules, anyone caught with small amounts of cannabis would have it confiscated and be made to appear before a tribunal that had the power to impose a fine. Police could also detain users to interrogate them about who they obtained the drug from.
From 2021 onwards, through the Responsible Use of Cannabis Act, further decriminalises the substance, permits limited possession and cultivation, permits consumption in private and establishes a role of regulatory authority.
According to the new Responsible Use of Cannabis Act, adults will now be able to legally carry up to 7g of cannabis without the risk of arrest or confiscation.
Anyone caught with an amount of cannabis between 7g and 28g will appear before a tribunal rather than a criminal court.
These rules apply to people aged 18 or over.
Under the new rules, anyone caught consuming cannabis in public will appear before a justice commissioner and can be fined up to €235.
If smoking in front of a minor, the fine increases to a maximum of €500.
The rules also allow for the home cultivation of up to four cannabis plants. This four-plant limit applies per household, not per person.
Plants must not be visible, which means no cannabis plants on balconies or terraces.
People will be permitted to store up to 50g of dried cannabis bud at home at any given time.
ROLE OF THE CANNABIS REGULATOR
The law also introduces a new regulatory authority to oversee the cannabis sector.
All cannabis associations will have to register with the new Responsible use of Cannabis Authority and file a report every three months with it.
Membership lists will remain anonymous.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF CANNABIS IN SPORT?
Substances scheduled under section 8 “Cannabinoids” of the WADA Prohibited List remain prohibited in sport during the in-competition period.
It is important to note that:
Consumption of cannabinoids in out-of-competition period can still result in an anti-doping rule violation for a doping control test taken in-competition since the prohibited substance may take weeks to be removed from the body’s system.
Passive smoking of cannabinoids may also result in a positive test especially in environments where THC is heavily consumed.
Other violations related to these prohibited substances (included but not limited to possession, attempted use, trafficking etc.) are still to be treated as anti-doping rule violations.
Changes in the status of any prohibited substance will be issued by WADA and published in the government gazette.
CAN I GET A THERAPEUTIC USE EXEPEMPTION FOR MEDICAL CANNABIS?