How Long Does Cannabis Stay in the System of an Athlete? 

Whether you use is for medicinal purposes or recreationally, if you’re an athlete who uses marijuana, there’s no doubt that some concerns cross your mind; namely, the drug tests that many sports leagues require.

While you know that it doesn’t negatively impact your performance on the field or court, in the swimming pool, on the track, on the course, or wherever else you play (and in fact, it likely enhances your performance), that doesn’t change the fact that cannabis is a substance that continues to be banned by sports leagues.

As such, if you take a test and it determines that you have weed in your system, you run the risk of not only being benched, but there’s also a chance that you could be cut from your team – and the league completely. 

cannabis use in sports

You’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and energy into enhancing your skill to get where you are in whatever sport you play, so it stands to reason that the last thing you want to do is risk giving up everything that you have worked so hard to achieve because of the results of a drug test.

While it’s true that cannabis has been legalized in many states throughout the country and that some sports leagues are in the process of discussing whether or not they should continue to test for cannabis, in many sports leagues – especially in states where weed continues to be criminalized – fears of being ostracized are certainly in the back of your mind. 

Therefore, before you light up a bong, bowl, joint, or blunt, or munch on some tasty edibles, finding out how long weed will stay in your system is a wise idea so that you can determine your risk of turning up a positive drug test. 

To ease your concerns, let’s explore how long weed remains in the body of an athlete so that you can determine whether or not ripping a bong, smoking a spliff, or chowing down on some ganja brownies or lollies is the right choice. 

High-Profile Athletes Suspended for Marijuana

Before we explore how long cannabis remains in the system, to stress the importance of this topic and to confirm the validity of your concerns, we think it’s important to highlight some high-profile athletes who have gotten into trouble for toking the ganja.

Surprisingly, the list of athletes who have had issues in this department is pretty long, and we aren’t talking about B-list athletes, either; we’re talking about the primo, cream of the crop, top echelon of their respective sport. Here’s a look at five of high-profile cases. 

michael phelps cannabis use
CHICAGO, IL – JULY 21: Michael Phelps attends the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island on July 21, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Redferns)

Michael Phelps

The most decorated Olympian of all time, winning a total of 28 medals in men’s swimming, 23 of which were gold, was launched into the headlines, not because of his superhuman swimming skills, but because of cannabis use. Though he never tested positive for weed before any of the Olympic events he participated in, a pic surfaced that depicted the swimmer smoking weed while he was celebrating after the 2008 Olympics that launched Phelps into a massive scandal. 

While he was clean for all of his Olympic events and he never had any legal issues, USA Swimming, which governs competitive swimming in the United States, determined that the photo was enough proof to suspend Phelps for 3 months. The organization stated that they decided to suspend him in order to “send a strong message” to other swimmers and the public at large. 

Martavis Bryant weed use
MIAMI, FL – SEPTEMBER 23: Martavis Bryant #12 of the Oakland Raiders runs for yardage during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Martarvis Bryant

The super-star wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Martavis Bryant, apparently used cannabis pretty regularly and pretty heavily. The football player tested positive for weed in back to back seasons, both in 2015 and 2016. The test landed him a full season suspension from the game.

Since then, Bryant has been spending most of his time in Henderson, Nevada, where he continues to center his life around the game. He claims that he has stopped using cannabis to re-launch his career, and said that his weed use was a foolish mistake. 

Ricky Williams weed
FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 29: Ricky Williams #34 of the Miami Dolphins tries to get away from Ted Johnson #52 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2002 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 27-24 in overtime. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Ricky Williams

Ricky Williams is another NFL player and he was considered the best running back in the history of the league by many fans and players; that is until he was hit with a number of suspensions for – you guessed it – using weed. His first suspension happened after he failed a drug test in December of 2004.

The NFL announced that Williams was going to be suspended for four games and that he would have to pay a fine to the tune of $650,000. In 2006, he faced yet another suspension, except this time, it wasn’t for just a few games, but rather for the entire 2006 football season. 

In 2012, Ricky Williams retired from the NFL, and since then, he has been an ardent and vocal cannabis supporter and the medicinal uses and benefits it offers for football players. Williams, along with several other NFL players, strongly advocate for marijuana bans to end in all sports. 

Larry Sanders marijuana
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – MARCH 04: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks waits for a free throw during a game against the Indiana Pacers at Fiserv Forum on March 04, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Larry Sanders

Larry Sanders is a former NBA player who played center for the Milwaukee Bucks. In 2014, he was hit with a 5 game suspension after he tested positive for cannabis. In the 2014-2015 season, he tested positive a second time, and in January of 2015, he was suspended for another 10 games. During his time off from the league, he was very vocal about his support for the use of medicinal marijuana in sports, and he continues to advocate for players to benefit from the natural medicine. 

Randy Moss marijuana
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – JANUARY 26: Randy Moss from ESPN looks on during the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium on January 26, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Randy Moss

Ex-wide receiver for the New England Patriots, randy Moss, wasn’t suspended for cannabis use during his time with the NFL; however, in 1995, he was kicked out of Florida State for his weed use. When this information came to light, Moss went public on ESPN, stating that he used the non-performance enhancing drug on a regular basis during his time with the NFL. Randy, like other athletes mentioned above, remains a big advocate for the use of medicinal marijuana in the NFL. 

Different Types of Drug Tests & How They Work

Okay, so now that you know about some of the big-name athletes who have gotten into trouble for cannabis use, let’s take a look at what the drug tests that you’re subjected to actually check for. 

Several different types of drug tests are used on athletes, and each one checks for THC, the cannabinoid that causes the psychoactive effects that marijuana is most famous for. THC breaks down rather quickly; however, the process the body undergoes while breaking it down produces a number of inactive substances known as metabolites.

It’s the metabolites that act as markers for marijuana use and that are present in the body a long time after the high-like feeling that cannabis produces has subsided. 

urine analysis

Common Types of Marijuana Tests Used For Athletes

As mentioned, there are several different types of tests that can be used to determine the presence of the cannabinoid components that are found in cannabis. While the results that these testing methods will reveal vary, obviously, each one is checking to determine if you have marijuana in your system. 

Let’s take a look at each of different types of tests and what they are checking for. 

Urine Analysis Tests

Perhaps the most common drug test that athletes are subjected to is the urine test. This test can detect THC-COOH, a metabolism byproduct of THC, and it is the most accurate of all drug tests. The timeframes that urine tests will be able to detect THC-COOH are as follows: 

  • 3 days for occasional marijuana users
  • 5 to 7 days for moderate cannabis users
  • 10 to 15 days for chronic weed smoking of edible use
  • 30 days for those who use cannabis on a chronically heavy basis

Blood Analysis Tests

Your blood can also reveal whether or not you have been using cannabis. Typically, THC can be detected in the blood within 1 to 2 days after its last use; however, it is important to note that for chronic heavy weed users, the window of time to detect THC in the blood is longer. 

Hair Follicle Tests

It might sound surprising, but your hair follicles can reveal whether or not you have THC in your system. Typically, this test can only determine the presence of THC in those who use weed on a heavy basis, and the window of detection can last as long as 90 days. The test is pricy, as it requires the use of state-of-the-art equipment; therefore, blood and urine tests are used more often, as they aren’t as costly. 

Saliva Tests

Lastly, saliva tests can be used to detect the presence of cannabis in your system. While this is the easiest of all tests to perform, the window for detection is very short; typically only 24 hours for occasional pot smokers or edible users, and as long as 72 hours for those who use the non-performance enhancing drug heavily. 

how long will weed stay in system

How Long will Weed Remain in Your System? 

The above information highlights “occasional”, “moderate”, “chronic”, and “chronic heavy” users, but what exactly does that mean? How do you know what you would be classified as? There are several factors that will impact how long THC, the compound in weed that causes that psychoactive effective, will remain in your body, or how long it will show up on a drug test. These factors include the following: 

  • How much did you take? The higher the dosage, the longer THC will remain in your body. In other words, the more cannabis you use, the longer it will take your body to breakdown the THC metabolites and pass them through your system, and the longer the presence of weed will show up on drug tests. 
  • How frequently do you get high? Perhaps the most crucial factor that will determine when THC will clear your system is how frequently you toke or munch on edibles. The number of days that THC can remain the body varies, and typically ranges from 5 to 30 or even more days, depending on your frequency of use. 
  • How much body fat do you have? Your body fat content will also influence the amount of time that cannabis will remain in your system. THC-COOH, a metabolite of THC, is fat-soluble, which means it binds to fat molecules, and therefore, THC can be stored away in fat molecules for a pretty long time. In other words, higher your body fat content, the longer weed will remain in your system. 
  • What kind of genetics do you have? Believe it or not, genetics have a big impact on the amount of time it will take your system to process and metabolize THC. 
  • Do you have a high metabolism? The faster your metabolism levels, the faster your body will break down and pass THC through your system. To translate: the faster your metabolism, the less time that weed will remain in your system. 
  • How frequently do you exercise? Because THC is fat soluble and gets stored in fat molecules, exercise and physical activity helps THC pass through your system faster. The more you exercise and the more physically active you are, the faster your body will breakdown and process THC, as the more you sweat and rehydrate, the more metabolites will leave your system. 

Is There a Way to Confidently Beat a Cannabis Drug Test? 

If you’re an athlete and you’ve just found out that you’re going to be subjected to a drug test after you have already used it, don’t panic; there are things that you can do to increase your chances of clearing the test. 

The very first thing you’ll need to do is to stop using cannabis as soon as you find out that you have to take a drug test. You’ll need do flush the THC out of your system, and if you continue to smoke weed or consume cannabis-infused products, you won’t be able to flush the THC out. Regrettably, eliminating THC from your system can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to speed up the process. 

To fast-track the process of breaking down and flushing out THC, increase your fluid intake. Water encourages the passing of THC metabolites through the urine. Do keep in mind, however, that it is possible to drink too much water, which can be hazardous. Also, water alone won’t entirely cleanse your system because H20 does not actually speed up your metabolism, it just provides it with additional fluid.

Alternatively, you can drink cranberry juice, as it’s even more effective at flushing THC out of the system. Additionally, go pee several times before your drug test, as the highest amount of metabolites will show up in your first urine of the day. 

HerbCEO Final Thoughts

Herb CEO Summary

At the end of the day the only way to live 100% stress-free as an athlete is to just abstain. Yeah yeah, we’re not fans of current athletic organizational drug policies but you wanted and answer and that’s it.

That said, it’s well known within many professional sports organizations, from MMA to the NFL that cannabis use in the offseason is very common and has been for a while. As more states legalize the good herb we imagine this archaic policy will fade off into the sunset in the near future.

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