Olympic athletes and marijuana have a contentious history. A few months after winning a record-breaking eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps was caught on camera smoking marijuana, an infamous incident that barred him from competition for three months and lost him a major endorsement deal with Kellogg’s.
Yet, with medical and recreational marijuana laws loosening nationwide and a cannabidiol (commonly known as CBD) craze taking the country by storm, the rules surrounding marijuana use among Olympic athletes have changed as well. Since 2013, athletes have been allowed to compete with up to 150 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) of marijuana in their systems — a 10-fold increase from the prior threshold of 15 ng/ml.
For the uninitiated cannabis user, what does this scientific jargon really mean in practice? Marijuana usually stays in a casual user’s system for a few weeks, and in a chronic user’s for over a month (though this varies person to person), but with some time between use and competition, the level of marijuana may be too insignificant to trigger a positive Olympic drug test. To put this in perspective, most workplaces with drug testing policies have much stricter thresholds for marijuana use — they won’t bat an eye if you have between 15 and 50 ng/ml of marijuana in your system, but you’d be in big trouble with 150 ng/ml. For those wondering about cannabidiol, Olympic athletes have had the full green light to use CBD products, such as CBD lotions, serums and salves, since 2019.
These semi-lenient rules surrounding marijuana use at the Olympics may seem confusing because, technically, marijuana is included on a list of substances prohibited in competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the international organization that coordinates and regulates anti-doping efforts across international sports. This means that while athletes may have some marijuana in their system during competition and while they can indulge before or after the Olympic Games, they absolutely cannot smoke marijuana during the games. This is an especially salient rule for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where marijuana use is punishable with up to five years in prison.
If you’re in pursuit of a travel destination where the high is at the heart of the adventure, there are many places around the world that are now advertising cannabis tourism.