Different stages of a drug test

What Happens in a Sports Drugs Test?

It’s not really news to any of us, athlete or no, that performance-enhancing drugs exist, and that they have become an increasing problem across many athletic activities and sports. As part of a reactionary tactic to try to come to grips with this issue, drug testing has become a common practice.

Athletes competing at any level of sport can be drug tested at any time, in any place, with no advance notice. This includes after a match or event, during a training session, or even at home. There is no limit to the number of times they can be tested in a year, and can be the make-or-break factor in an athletic career.

But what happens during a sports drug test, and why is it important? Can CBD show on a drug test and is it something that’s even tested for? What happens after a drug test?

What Is Drug Testing and Why is it Important?

Drug testing can be defined as a process in which biological samples of an athlete’s blood, urine, or saliva are collected and tested for substances that are either illegal or banned within a sport. This is quite vague, but a performance enhancing drug can be considered any substance that may give an athlete an unfair advantage relative to an athlete who is ‘clean’.

Drug testing in sports is important for many reasons, including:

  • Preventing cheating in sports
  • Keeping a level playing field for athletes
  • Supporting the notion of fair play and equality

The list of banned drugs in sport, called the Prohibited List, is produced by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, and is refreshed every year, but can be updated at any time as well. The Prohibited List includes substances banned both in and out of competition, and those that pertain only to certain sports.

What Substances Are Banned in Sports/Athletics?

As said above, some sports may ban certain substances that other sports don’t, but some of the more common chemicals and substances that athletes are usually tested for include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Stimulants such as amphetamines, ephedra, or caffeine
  • Steroids
  • HGH (human growth hormone)

The full list of banned substances and techniques fall into the following categories:

  • Androgens
  • Blood doping
  • Peptide hormones
  • Stimulants
  • Diuretics
  • Narcotics
  • Cannabinoids

Each sports organization has a different list of substances they test for and if you’re curious it’s worth contacting your specific league for details.

Can CBD Show up on a Drug Test?

If you are interested in taking CBD, a known cannabinoid, then the fact that it features on the list above has probably piqued your interest. So let us console you — drug tests don’t usually test for CBD specifically. 

Because CBD has been shown to only stimulate our own ECS system into functioning more effectively, it does not have the same effects as an ‘enhancement’ drug that adds something extra to our systems in hopes to boost performance. 

In 2018, WADA removed CBD from its banned substances list. This means that CBD is not comparable to performance-enhancing drugs like amphetamines, hormones, or illegal drugs. In the UK it is now legal to grow hemp plants, manufacture CBD, and sell CBD-related products, as long as they don’t attempt to make any definitive medical claim about their effects. 

But because hemp plants can and do also contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in order for CBD to be considered legal, it must contain no more than 0.2% THC. While CBD isn’t a banned substance, all other cannabinoids are prohibited from sports. Sporting supplements and legal sporting aids are allowed, but athletes must be careful they are not contaminated with a banned substance.

What Happens When Athletes Are Asked to take a Drug Test?

If you’re required to undergo a drug test you will most likely be asked to provide either a urine or blood sample, and sometimes both. The precise procedure may vary from country to country, but usually entail the steps below:

Drug tests are quite immediate, and so once an athlete has been informed of the test, they must be accompanied at all times until the test is complete. The sample must be provided while the athlete is accompanied to diminish any chance of substituting samples, and are asked to provide two samples for definitive testing. The sample is then sealed and collected and sent to an accredited lab to be analysed.

 What Happens After a Drug Test?

After the sample is collected, it is transported to an independent laboratory for testing. The analytical tests employed will be appropriate to the prohibited substances that apply to the athlete’s sport and whether or not the athlete is currently competing or not.

The results of laboratory analyses are reported to the appropriate authority, which is normally the sport governing body or the competition event organiser that the athlete is part of or participating in. If the analysis does not detect a prohibited substance or method, the athlete is informed and results are put on a public register. These results can be stored for varying lengths of time for reference.

If a sample does contain a prohibited substance, the athlete is notified of the following:

  • The adverse analytical finding
  • The anti-doping rule violated
  • The athlete’s right to request the analysis of the second sample submitted

The effects can be major and include disqualification and ineligibility, according to the nature of the violation. If a negative result occurs in connection with a competitive event, this may lead to disqualification of the athlete’s individual results. Normally, an athlete would also serve a period of ineligibility to compete.

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