The 2021 Tokyo games is the first Olympics in which athletes are permitted to use CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants.
This year, some of the greatest athletes in the world, including Megan Rapinoe (women’s soccer) and Devon Allen (men’s track and field) have trained using CBD products to boost their athletic performance, thanks to a change in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) policies that removed CBD from the prohibited substances list.
The use of marijuana (AKA all products containing the psychoactive compound THC) is still prohibited.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) pulled CBD from its prohibited substances list in 2017. That change did not go into effect until January 1, 2018, though, and there was no time for athletes to incorporate CBD use into training before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Very little research has been conducted on CBD, but users generally report feeling more relaxed after using this cannabis compound, without experiencing the psychoactive effects or “high” that THC induces.
“CBD suppresses inflammatory pain,” Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a cannabis clinician, told GreenState. “It blocks the mediators of inflammation by interacting with receptors in the body associated with inflammation. Because of these properties, athletes use it during recovery after intense exercise. It’s also shown to reduce anxiety by modulating the serotonin receptors just like some of the anti-anxiety and antidepressants do, which studies have shown can help with social anxiety, performing in public, and possibly sleep.”
In an interview with Forbes, Megan Rapinoe described how she incorporated CBD into her training for Tokyo.
“CBD has become part of my all-natural recovery system that I use throughout the day to help with pain and inflammation, stabilize my mood and get better sleep. Instead of taking Advil or other pain management meds, I’ve almost exclusively substituted with Mendi CBD products,” Megan Rapinoe told Forbes. “I use them right after training, pop in a gummy or gel capsule for pain and to calm me down, then another gummy in the afternoon to relax, then the night tincture right before bed for better sleep. It’s truly part of my entire day.”
The ”Mendi CBD” she references is a line of CBD products Rapinoe’s sister, Rachael Rapinoe, recently co-founded with Brett Schwager. It’s one of several CBD businesses that have chosen to focus on athlete-friendly CBD or “CBD isolate,” meaning it contains 0% THC.
Other CBD lines often sell products that have a small percentage of THC in them, which makes it risky to take a drug test after use. So, businesses like Mendi have stepped in to put athletes’ minds at ease.
The introduction of CBD into the Olympic games introduces alluring advertising opportunities for CBD brands. Four members of Team USA are serving as brand ambassadors for Mendi: Megan Rapinoe, Devon Allen, Haylie McCleney (women’s softball) and Sue Bird (women’s basketball.) The U.S. Triathlon Federation also became the first-ever U.S. national governing body to partner with a CBD brand – Pure Spectrum CBD – and U.S. Weightlifting is now sponsored by the same brand.
But despite these major milestones, talk of CBD in the Tokyo games has not gone over as well as expected on social media. When her Mendi endorsement was published in Forbes in July, 2021, many Twitter-users accused WADA of hypocrisy and even racism for allowing Rapinoe, a white woman, to promote CBD while Sha’Carri Richardson, a black woman, sits out the Olympics because of testing positive for marijuana use.
While WADA maintains that cannabis will stay on the banned substances list for this Olympics, the outcry against Richardson’s suspension – from fans on social media and even from U.S. public officials – has made many wonder how long that ban will last. In the U.S., a growing number of major sports leagues, from the National Football League (NFL) to Major League Baseball (MLB) have ceased suspending players for testing positive for cannabis.
For now, experts generally agree that CBD does not enhance athletic performance beyond what an aspirin would do. The exact effects of THC, on the other hand, are too little researched to understand how being “high” affects performance.
Though they are technically free to use it now, Forbes reported that no athlete brought CBD to Japan. Aside from the complications of bringing CBD into a foreign country, the small risk of failing a cannabis drug test because of a CBD product was enough to convince Olympians to leave their CBD at home.
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.