Athletes who are members of sports leagues that adhere to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) guidelines are forbidden from using anything substances that could be considered performance-enhancing drugs, including cannabis. Drug tests are primarily checking for THC, the psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant.
Athletes are sometimes required to submit to drug tests, and the detection of a banned substance could cost an athlete their career. Here’s what you should know about how long cannabis can stay in the system of an athlete and how to support the body’s ability to metabolize cannabis.*
What factors impact how long weed stays in your system?
There isn’t a significant difference in how long cannabis may stay in one person’s system versus another person’s system if they both use similar amounts of cannabis with similar frequency.
Factors like metabolism and exercise may play a small role in the body’s ability to flush out cannabinoid metabolites. However, keep in mind that chronic users will experience positive test results for a greater length of time than people who rarely use cannabis due to the way THC builds up in the body.*
Metabolism can vary from individual to individual. Some people may have a faster or slower metabolism than average. Metabolism doesn’t always refer to how many calories you consume — it can also refer to your body’s ability to process, use, and eliminate things like supplements, medications, and cannabinoids.
Some people process cannabinoids and eliminate their byproducts very efficiently, while other people may have a slower metabolic process that causes cannabinoid metabolites to linger a little longer than usual. The difference between a fast and slow metabolism usually amounts to only a few days.
THC metabolites are stored in body fat, and we know that exercise can help burn body fat. The idea behind exercising to help the body eliminate cannabinoid metabolites faster makes sense in theory, but don't count on this method to remove THC from your system.
Studies that measured cannabinoid metabolites in urine and THC-COOH (THC metabolites in the blood) in people before, during, and after exercise found that exercise didn’t make a significant difference in the way the body processed cannabinoids.
If you want to exercise and eat mindfully to improve your general health, that’s always an excellent decision. Just don’t exercise excessively in an attempt to pass a drug test.
The body can efficiently eliminate a small amount of THC fairly quickly in someone who rarely uses cannabis. It will take the body longer to process a more considerable amount of cannabinoids, especially for chronic heavy users who frequently introduce THC into their system.*
The amount of cannabis you consumed may not matter if you use cannabis every single day. Even if you only use a very small amount, the frequency of your use is what matters most — and people who microdose cannabinoids fall into this category.
If you’re using cannabis every day, your body won’t be able to thoroughly purge THC from your system, as there is a constant influx of additional THC being consumed.
Moderate users and heavy users of cannabis will develop a tolerance, meaning they may need to use increasing amounts of cannabis to achieve their desired effect. The excess metabolites of cannabinoids can build up in body fat. Fat cells hold onto these metabolites and slowly purge them as the body cycles their contents for energy.
The more THC metabolites there are, the longer it takes for the system to completely purge them. Heavy cannabis users may test positive for cannabis even after they’ve abstained from use for a full month or more.*
What is the half-life of weed?
The term “half-life” refers to how long it takes your body to eliminate half of the total amount of a substance from your body. Some substances, especially water soluble substances, have very short half-lives — your body can reduce its total concentration by half in as little as a few hours.
Cannabis is lipid-soluble, and anything that your body fat can absorb is more likely to stick around for longer. Additionally, the duration of the half-life will increase with the frequency of use. The half-life of cannabis for occasional users is about 1.3 days on average, while the half-life of cannabis for heavy users can be more than two weeks.
How long might weed stay in the system of an athlete?
Athletes are often painted as the portrait of perfect health. They take care of their bodies, exercise frequently, and are usually very mindful of nutrition.
It might seem as though cannabinoids would leave their systems faster because their bodies are primed to work efficiently, but that’s not quite how things work. The system of an athlete isn’t too much different from that of a non-athletic person of average-to-good health.
The most important factor in determining how long cannabis will stay in someone’s system is their frequency of use. THC can be detected on a drug test for much longer when someone frequently uses cannabis. Different types of drug tests will have their own detection window, which also impacts how long cannabis use can be detected.*
When someone is required to submit to a drug test, the test will almost always be a urine test. Urinalysis is the most common type of drug test. It’s very inexpensive, it yields results quickly, and the results are highly accurate.
THC can be detected in urine for up to 45 days in heavy users with a significant amount of body fat. The detection window is up to 30 days for most people. Infrequent users may only have detectable levels of THC in their urine for less than a week.*
Most bodily systems do a very good job of cleaning and replacing your blood. Cannabis can only be detected in blood for up to 12 hours after use, no matter how often you use cannabis, and a blood test for a heavy user will work the same way as a blood test for infrequent users.
Blood tests are almost never used to detect levels of THC in the blood. Instead, most athletes just get blood tests to collect health data that may change how they train or perform. These tests are voluntary and for health-related purposes, and they aren’t intended to check the levels of drugs in an athlete’s system.
Saliva tests have a 24-hour detection window for everyone who uses cannabis, regardless of how often they use cannabis. Saliva tests are usually only used when the main goal is to determine if someone has used cannabis very recently — they’re rarely used for general drug testing.
Saliva tests have a 98% accuracy rating if used correctly. Most saliva tests are performed and collected by a trained professional rather than by the person being tested. The results are more likely to be accurate when an experienced person follows the proper protocol to collect the saliva sample.
Your hair is made of dead cells from your body, and dead cells hold onto a lot of debris. Drug metabolites can enter the hair shaft through skin oils, blood circulating through the scalp, and sweat. Metabolites will remain detectable in a hair sample until they’ve fully decomposed.
A hair follicle test involves removing several hairs from the back of the head near the nape of the neck, securely packaging them, and sending them off to a testing lab. THC may be detected in hair for up to 90 days. Hair tests are one of the most valuable drug tests because of their ability to provide results within such a large detective window, but they’re very expensive and impractical.
Hair tests aren’t commonly used under normal circumstances. They’re typically reserved for situations when someone disputes the results of a urine test or when it’s important to verify if someone used drugs in the past.
How can you support your body’s ability to metabolize weed?
Any product that bills itself as a “detox” is unlikely to help your body metabolize cannabis. No substances or supplements are effective at metabolizing cannabis faster than your body is equipped to metabolize it.
These products are misleading at best and outright scams at worst. Many of these detox kits are produced by shady companies that may not be following safety and quality standards for supplements. Not only are they completely ineffective, but they’re potentially dangerous to use.
There are plenty of bogus tips on the internet that suggest things like drinking a gallon of water, consuming only sports drinks with electrolytes, drinking large amounts of cranberry juice, doing jumping jacks, taking ice baths, or using a combination of supplements to allegedly force your body to purge cannabis metabolites.
None of these will work efficiently. There is no magic pill or special trick. If there were, everyone would use that technique, and drug tests would be rendered completely ineffective. Drug tests are highly reliable. There’s an effective troubleshooting process to rule out the possibility of false results. They’re more sensitive and accurate than they’ve ever been, and they’re very hard to fool.
The best (and most effective) thing you can do to support your body’s ability to metabolize cannabis is to stop using cannabis, or slowly decrease your intake. Every time you use cannabis, you’re extending the period of time it will take for all of its metabolites to leave your system. But doing this part slowly, rather than all at once, allows you to ease into the transition of not using the substance.
The second most important thing you can do is manage your general wellness. Drink plenty of water, eat nutritious foods, and get your daily movement. Your body can perform its natural processes better when it’s getting all the things it needs to stay healthy.
Managing your wellness won’t necessarily help your body flush out cannabinoid metabolites faster than the average person, but it may help someone with a slower metabolism flush out metabolites at a normal rate.
The bottom line
There are a lot of misconceptions about how long cannabis can stay in your system, as well as things you can do to help your body eliminate cannabis. Athletes are often very healthy people, but they’re unlikely to metabolize THC significantly faster than the average person.
After receiving frequent requests from athletes, the World Anti-Doping Agency revised its policy on cannabinoids. Athletes are officially permitted to use CBD products as long as they don’t contain any detectable levels of THC.
Our full line of curated hemp wellness products include third-party tested, premium quality hemp extract, available in both broad and full spectrum. We are here to make CBD approachable to everyone, whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior. Shop the full wellness collection here.