How long does weed stay in an athlete's system

Tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly referred to as THC, can stay in the body for several days or even weeks. There are a few correlating factors to the length of time THC remains in the body. For instance, how much body fat does the person have? How often do they take a toke of the marijuana smoke? How much grass do they consume when taking bong rips and drags off a blunt? And the craziest one of all, how sensitive is the drug test being administered?


Before the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use passed the floors of certain state lawmakers (44 states at the moment of this writing in some form), athletes of all levels smoked pot, the ganja, the devil’s lettuce, reefer, and whatever else it goes by. We also know that some athletes adhered to prohibition standards and followed the rules like good boys and good girls tend to do. For those who smoked or consumed edibles, the fear of a positive drug test from the plant containing THC has always been a concern; it is still a concern for athletes in states without legalization. The legal jurisdictions, labor union agreements, contractual signage, scholarships, and whatever other limits to behaviors that are written upon stationary always play in the back of an athlete’s mind when considering the substance that is the pot. 

THC can be detected in an athlete’s urine, blood, hair, and saliva. THC is a lipid-soluble chemical, meaning it binds to fat in the body. The research done on the topic of detection believes the opening for catching a culprit who smoked a single marijuana cigarette, commonly referred to as a joint, is about 3 days. But again, other factors play into this scenario. First time smoking? Three-day window to say, “Gotcha!” Smoking three to four times per week? Can nab you over a 5-7 day window. The habitual user who smokes once or more a day? The test can turn up positive thirty or more days after the last imbibing of the good stuff.


That info is great, but we also need to take into consideration what type of test is being administered. Urine? Can detect 3-30 days after use. Saliva? Typically only able to detect for 24 hours after use. Hair tests? Up to 90 days after use, though this one is most likely to give a false positive--this positive comes about like the idea of a contact high. See, the hair test is essentially looking at the oil from the skin that transfers to the hair. Shake hands with someone who smoked pot and hypothetically a positive hair test can occur--this is rare. Blood tests? 3-4 hours.

For the most part, athletes will be asked to pee in a cup. If the athlete smoked within seven and a half hours of the test, that’s going to be positive. However, infrequent users peeing in a cup and being subjected to highly sensitive tests have something ranging up to 40% of not being nabbed.


Let’s just say people with higher body fat concentrations may metabolize marijuana more slowly than a person with less body fat. Since we’re talking about athletes, we know athletes, generally speaking, tend to have more lean muscle mass, less body fat, and exercise regularly (exercise doesn’t really change the metabolizing of THC, but exercising before a drug test might actually increase the likelihood of a positive test). With that being said, hypothetically a leaner, more muscle dense body makes it harder for THC to hang out in the body.


With all of that in mind, let’s talk about the benefits of using marijuana for sports and discuss if it is even okay to use marijuana for sports.

Why aren’t more athletes smoking weed to improve performance?

Pot Is...

Pot is a cannabis sativa plant. There are two main cannabinoids in this plant (actually there are 120+, but we're going to focus on two). The first is THC. The second one is cannabidiol. Cannabidiol doesn’t matter. It is CBD. It is a non-psychoactive product in the plant. THC is psychoactive. 

THC is the main compound that takes over the soul and spirit and ruins an athlete’s life. Or at least that’s what we have all been told. Being psychoactive, THC can change the thought process and sedate people slightly. It can be smoked. It can be ripped out of a bong, a bubbler, or a pipe. A person can consume an edible, munch on a cookie, eat a brownie, or maybe snack on a gummy. 

Drug Tests: USADA / WADA

USADA is the United States Anti-Doping Agency. They go around the country into gyms and homes and test athletes. They publish the results of the drug tests in a database online. They are looking for performance-enhancing drugs. They are trying to make sure there is a level playing field for all athletes. WADA is the World Anti-Doping Agency. They are the world body trying to maintain a level playing field for all athletes in a variety of sports. They set the rules and the standards for athletes to abide by.

In 2011 a statement was made about marijuana that said it covered two out of their three issues around the criteria of a banned substance. The first one being based around executive function. The agencies say that marijuana can impair the way an athlete operates. The second statement they utilized is that for some sporting disciplines is that marijuana can have a performance enhancement function. Wait...WHAT? Think about it. Skills that are precision-based with slight movement skills, the substance can calm the body down where it will have a positive impact. The third criteria, being a role model, deals with the impact athletes have on young children looking up to them.


These three aspects have led to marijuana being banned in competition. Now in 2019 CBD was taken off the list. Hemp-derived plants can be used. Hemp is a sister plant to marijuana. Hemp has high levels of CBD and low, if any at all, levels of THC. Around this same time, USADA and WADA changed the threshold of THC an athlete can have in their urine or blood. The threshold establishes that it is okay to have some THC in the system in competition. The in-competition is key here.


Out of competition, USADA and WADA don’t care. Marijuana can be used and pissing hot is without penalty (as long as the heat is from some heated THC.) They only care if being tested during competition and the level of THC exceeds the established threshold. Go ahead and burn one down.

TUE’s

TUE’s are therapeutic-use-exemptions. For instance, some athletes may have narcolepsy. Some drugs used for narcolepsy are banned by USADA and WADA. However, athletes with narcolepsy can apply for a TUE to the governing bodies for exemptions. The same can be done with marijuana prescriptions from a doctor. USADA and WADA reserve the right to deny a TUE

The Threshold

The current threshold is 150 ng/mL. This number before used to be 30 ng/mL, meaning that athletes needed to stop smoking 30+ days out from the competition to not piss hot. With the increased allowance, the halting of marijuana use needs to occur 7-9 days out from the in-competition test according to anecdotal evidence we have acquired over the years.

Health Risks & Benefits

We want to start by saying that if an athlete is considering using marijuana that they should talk to a doctor, a therapist, or other professionals. Do not self-medicate but talk to professionals.


Thinking about risks, we want to talk about them from an acute perspective and a chronic perspective. From an acute perspective, think infrequent usage, like once a week, a risk will be the feeling of sedation. Other acute risks include an altered sense of time, mood change (negatively or positively depending on the person), an alteration in appetite, and feelings of panic and anxiety. Chronic usage, every day, all the time, think of the classic image of a stoner being lazy and munching on potato chips, not able to remember what needs to get done. In summation, the chronic risks are laziness, weight gain, and poor memory.

The benefits from an acute perspective, marijuana is calming. An increase in appetite can be good based on individual circumstances. Some people relax when they utilize marijuana, which helps with achieving better sleep. Some people with social anxiety disorders benefit tremendously from marijuana.


From a chronic perspective, utilizing marijuana can help people who suffer from PTSD, anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms, stress management, sleep, and helps improve appetite. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy tend to feel like crap and completely lack the urge to eat. THC helps them develop appetites to eat more to help recover between treatments.


One key factor is there are a lot of prominent people out in the world and in the local communities who use marijuana. Know what? A lot of marijuana users hold themselves accountable and are outstanding citizens in society. Imagine that...outstanding citizens who are potheads...

Federal Legality

The USA considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug. That means users are at risk for high abuse. According to the federal government, marijuana is as detrimental as heroin. With that being said, and we mentioned this before, 44 states have legalized marijuana variety of ways: medical, medical with decriminalization, and a quite of bit of states, close to 20 now, where marijuana is fully legal. There are only six states where it is fully illegal.

So from a federal perspective, it is a, “No, No, No,” concerning usage, but from a state perspective, it varies. Athletes need to understand this based on where they are training and preparing for sport. It is based on the residence base.

Analysis

Marijuana isn’t bad. It is a sweet leaf.


Alcohol, on the other hand, is significantly worse. Alcohol impairs judgment horribly, seriously impair recovery, ruin sleep, increase estrogen levels in males, and wreak havoc on the system.


We prefer our athletes at Garage Strength abstain from alcohol.


It is important to understand the way marijuana is consumed. Smoking a joint or a blunt creates a heated product that harms the lungs. There are healthier means of using marijuana, like edibles, vaping, or a bubbler...maybe even a massive bong.

A variety of sports can benefit from marijuana. Football players can tremendously benefit from marijuana, especially because of CBD and the positive impact it has on brain inflammation. We are not naming names, but we know a decent amount of throwers and weightlifters that get high on marijuana.


The biggest factor is when using marijuana is occurring. Like, don’t use the sweet leaf when consuming booze. Also, don’t be utilizing marijuana when young. Kids, teenagers, and non-adults under the age of 23 have no business touching the stuff, they are too immature to comprehend the actual benefits.


Finally know the risks, benefits, and legalities surrounding marijuana usage regarding the sport being competed in. Abstain when necessary to not be penalized for something silly like exceeding the established threshold.

Recap

We hope this thorough analysis of marijuana for sports gave a deeper understanding of the relationship between the two. We hope athletes understand to consult doctors and other professionals before even considering using the substance. Acknowledge that marijuana will not be for every athlete. That’s cool. We also need to accept and understand that marijuana use for some athletes will be greatly beneficial. That’s cool too. 


DANE MILLER

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.

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