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CBD and elite sports: What are the challenges? — podcast

Exploring the developments, challenges and market barriers for CBD products and potential risks for athletes.

With so much controversy surrounding the use of cannabidiol (CBD) in the sports nutrition space, Terence O’Rorke, ESSNA Vice-Chair and Business Development Manager EMEA/APAC at LGC Group, joined us to expand on the challenges faced by consumers, CBD businesses, and the broader CBD industry in this category. Tune in to hear more about:

  •  ESSNA’s position on CBD in sports nutrition
  • The latest on the debate around inadvertent doping and what ESSNA is doing on this front
  • Why CBD has become increasingly popular amongst athletes
  • Some of the current challenges CBD businesses face
  • Insights on the World Anti-Doping Agency with regard to CBD
  • Barriers from a certification and testing perspective
  • The state of the CBD in sports nutrition debate from a research perspective
  • + more

Guest

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Terence O’Rorke
Vice Chair for the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) and Business Development Manager EMEA/ APAC at the LGC group

Terence has been advising the sports nutrition industry on testing and certification for the last decade. He has been an ESSNA member since 2013 and played a key role in ESSNA developing its position on inadvertent doping amongst athletes, an issue that continues to impact the reputation of the sports supplements industry. As Business Development Manager for international life sciences company LGC Group, Terence has commercial responsibility for its supplements testing services and certification programmes – including Informed Sport – in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Africa. Prior to joining LGC, he worked for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in Montreal, which allowed him to develop unique anti-doping expertise. This experience and knowledge have been crucial in making Informed Sport the leading supplements certification programme worldwide. Terence spent the first half of his career in sports communications, working for several international sports federations, including the Asian PGA Tour, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) and Ladies European Tour (LET). He also reported on sport for Reuters, SKY and Eurosport.


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Vitafoods Insights 00:06
Welcome to the Vitafoods insights podcast. Join us as we explore the latest science and innovation, helping the global health and nutrition industry connect, develop and progress. Today's host is Natalia Franca Rocha, content producer.

Natalia 00:25
Hello, and welcome to another Vitafoods Insights podcast episode. Today we'll be talking about cannabidiol CBD in relation to the sports nutrition market. I'm delighted to be joined today by Terence O’Rorke who is the Vice Chair for the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance, or ESSNA, and also business development manager for both the EMEA and APAC regions at the LGC group. Thanks for joining me today, Terence.

Terence 00:50
Thank you, Natalia. It's good to be here.

Natalia 00:52
So, a lot has been happening in the CBD industry recently. To get us started, can you share with us today, what is ESSNA position on CBD in sports nutrition?

Terence 01:02
Sure. ESSNA's position quite simply with CBD products and being used by athletes and elite athletes in sport is that there needs to be careful consideration of whether they should use the products or not. And the reason for this is, and I'll expand upon this a little bit more in our interview, is that there is still some uncertainty as to whether CBD products present a risk to athletes in terms of them failing an anti doping test, so committing a doping violation. There's a lot of research that still has to be done, and until such time as that research has been completed, or until such time as cannabis has been taken off the prohibited list of substances, the advice of ESSNA is that athletes should be very, very careful.

Natalia 01:52
With so much controversy and research happening, what would you say are the latest trends on the debate around inadvertent doping and what is ESSNA doing on this front?

Terence 02:04
So just a quick explanation. inadvertent doping is when an athlete's inadvertently or accidentally commits an anti doping violation. And perhaps the most common causes of inadvertent doping is through the use of a product of some kind, a consumer products, whether it is a CBD product or whether it is a supplements product, or even sometimes whether it is an athlete's eating, for example, a steak that has been contaminated with a certain banned substance. So, ESSNA's position on this is that put in place a very thorough policy position on inadvertent doping. And there is significant amounts of guidance on how athletes can best manage any risks associated with using sports nutrition or CBD products. Now, this whole issue of inadvertent doping has been quite a challenge for athletes, for the sports organisations, for the anti doping community, and also for the sports nutrition industry for quite a few years now. ESSNA has been very responsible insofar as it has provided significant amount of guidance to both their members, which are the sports nutrition companies in Europe, as well as athletes and consumers of sports nutrition products. It is an ongoing challenge. So the issue is it's not something that can be addressed and fully solved in one go. It's an ongoing challenge. And thankfully, Esna has a very strong position on this. And it's been very useful in terms of guiding athletes and sports nutrition industry.

Natalia 03:44
Well, thank you for expanding more on this inadvertent doping, its guidance and challenges as well. Now, can you explain why is CBD become increasingly popular among athletes?

Terence 03:56
Yes, so that's a very good question. And certainly there is a lot of evidence to show that athletes are using CBD products and for a number of reasons. These may range from helping to address issues with sleeplessness, it may help them with issues related to anxiety. You know, perhaps if you are an elite athlete who is travelling to competing in an event and you are perhaps travelling overnight on an aeroplane, or you are maybe sleeping in hotels where the sleep you get is not as good as if you were sleeping at home. You know, CBD products are shown to help with some of these issues. So it might help you with your anxiety. It may help you with sleeplessness. There's also a lot of evidence to show that CBD can support athletes in their training and in their recovery from competing. If you are an athlete, for example, who is taking part in in contact sports. You may come off the pitch and you know you have significant bruises or bumps, and, you know, muscle soreness, CBD products are shown to assist in recovering from these bumps and bruises. So there's a lot of evidence to show that CBD products can support an athlete in regards to these challenges that they face. And consequently, more and more athletes now are using CBD products. As we know, it's not just athletes who use CBD products, it's many consumers from all walks of life. Our work for the informed sport and informed choice programmes, we get on a regular occurrence, we get inquiries from CBD brands looking to certify products. So yes, they are widely used amongst athletes, and the benefits, apparently are quite significant for them.

Natalia 05:43
Absolutely, sleep quality and well being is definitely top of mind for many consumers across different industries. But that's also really interesting to hear more about the CBD, how it supports athletes towards their trainings and recovery as well. But what about businesses themselves? What are the challenges that CBD businesses are currently facing?

Terence 06:04
That is a very good question. And I think they face challenges on a number of fronts. I'm not a specialist in the regulatory areas of CBD, but I certainly know that there have been certain requirements within the European Union and now within the UK, in terms of registration of CBD products, I believe they have to go through quite a thorough list of requirements in order to get a licence to retail their products. So I think that has been one area where there have been lots of challenges. I think this also broadens out into what they're allowed to make in terms of label claims and how they present their nutritional panels on front of products and things like that. In terms of sports, CBD brands and manufacturers also face challenges in terms of how compatible these are with the requirements of an elite athletes. As I mentioned earlier in this interview, athletes face the doping controls. And one of the prohibited substances that they are tested for is cannabis and cannabis is the plant which has cannabinoids and CBD is one of those cannabinoids. Now, I can elaborate a little bit more on this than later on, but it's currently although CBD is permitted, it's not a banned substance within sports, other cannabinoids are prohibited. And this is where the CBD industry faces some challenges in terms of the appropriateness of their products being used by elite athletes.

Natalia 07:40
That's interesting. And expending more on doping control, what is the position of the world anti doping agency with regard to CBD?

Terence 07:49
Yeah, that's a very good question. And it's probably best answered, by saying that's the world anti doping agency or its acronym WADA does not have a position specific to CBD; what it has is a list of prohibited substances, which is essentially a long list of a wide range of different types of substances which athletes cannot use. And if they are found to use them, then they will have committed what's called a doping violation. Now CBD which as I mentioned before, is it comes from the cannabis plant. Now cannabis is prohibited by the world anti doping agency and has been since the agency was set up back in 2000 approximately. There's been a lot of talk around whether cannabis should be prohibited. And I know at the moment that the world anti doping agency has instructed its committee which looks after what substances go on its prohibited list. They have instructed their committee to make a review of whether cannabis should remain on the list of prohibited substances. As it stands, it is prohibited cannabis and it will be prohibited least until the end of 2022. But one of the cannabinoids that is permitted is CBD. So if an athlete was to use a CBD product and the only banned substance and that the product did not contain any other banned substances, ie any other banned cannabinoids, and in particular, too much of the cannabinoids THC, then that would be fine. But the reality is and there's been significant studies to show this that many CBD products may also contain cannabinoids which are still prohibited by the world anti doping agency. And they may also contain levels of THC, which would put an athlete at risk if they were then to face a doping control. Now within the European Union and within the United States, THC, which is one of the cannabinoids within cannabis, THC is permitted at regulatory level. I think in Europe it's 0.3%. And in the United States, it's 0.2%, it may be the other way around. But certainly regulators do allow a very small amounts of THC within CBD products. However, again, there is significant evidence and this is, LGC has done studies looking at CBD products to show that many products have THC levels higher than what they claim. We have also done studies that show that many CBD products also contain cannabinoids which are still prohibited by the world anti doping agency and specifically prohibited within competition. LGC performed a study back in I think it was 2020 where they took I think it was 23 CBD products. And these products were only supposed to contain CBD. But we found every single one of those also contained other cannabinoids, which are still prohibited. I think there was also a study in 2020 by the Cologne University in the Cologne anti doping Laboratory, which looked at the impacts of athletes that use CBD products. And they tested the urine within that study of these athletes of the population study. And they found that there was evidence of cannabinoids which could then lead to a anti doping violation. So although the position of CBD being not prohibited by the world anti doping agency as we speak, other cannabinoids, and particular THC are prohibited. And this is where the risk exists for athletes that use CBD products.

Natalia 11:46
That's so insightful. Thank you so much for sharing all of these insights and risks as well. seeing as CBD products containing traces of prohibited substances as you mentioned, what would you say are the barriers from a certification and testing perspective?

Terence 12:02
That's again, is a very good question Natalia and we have as I mentioned earlier, we have received significant interest from CBD manufacturers and CBD brands with regards to testing and certifying their products. LGC currently has two finished product certification programmes, one is called informed sport, which is created specifically for athletes that wish to use sports nutrition products. And the other one is informed choice which is more of a quality assurance and retail monitoring type programme. As things stands, we are not permitted to certify CBD products onto inform sports or on to informed choice for the reasons that that I have already explained, that there is significant evidence to show that CBD products contain other cannabinoids which are prohibited in sports by the world anti doping agency. And in particular, they may contain levels of THC, which are higher than the regulated levels that are are permitted. So as things stand, we cannot certify them on to inform sports. If you can imagine that a CBD product is allowed to contain a permitted amount of THC, and THC is a banned substance, you can perhaps understand how much of a risk it would be then to allow products containing banned substances onto a banned substance programme. There's a significant conflict of the risk that is involved in that. So informed sports as things stand certainly does not allow any CBD products onto the programme. We are reviewing that position with regards to informed choice. As I mentioned, the informed choice is more of a quality assurance programme just for general consumers of supplements and nutritional products. It's not so focused on the elite athlete and not so focused on the banned substance testing components. Hopefully within the next few months, we might be able to make an announcement around allowing CBD products onto the Informed Choice programme. Now there will still be some challenges if that is allowed because in order for a CBD products to come on to a programme like informed choice, we would have to do some additional testing we would have to make sure that that product does not contain any additional cannabinoids which are prohibited and that it does not contain THC at a level above the permitted levels. So there would be some additional testing but certainly the amount of interest we have had from CBD brands and manufacturers, we're hopeful that we would be able to incorporate that additional testing and make it possible for them to come onto the programme. This is a personal view, is that in the not too distant future, cannabis will be taken off the list of prohibited substances. As I mentioned earlier, WADA has instructed its list Committee, which is a committee that looks at banned substances. It has instructed them to review the status of cannabis and whether or not it should be taken off the list of prohibited substances. My personal view is that it should have been taken off quite some time ago. There is very little evidence to suggest that cannabis has any performance enhancing benefits. I know that the world anti doping agency did share some details from a study maybe angles back in 2006, 2007, and showed that cannabis can help to ease anxiety. So for example, if an athlete was anxious about performing and they may get nervous, a certain amount of cannabis may help to take away some of that anxiety, which would then help them to perform possibly a little bit better. I'm not convinced that that is a good enough reason for cannabis to remain on the list of prohibited substances. And if anything, I would suggest that cannabis is actually a deterrence to performance. I don't think it would help athletes at all. Now for a substance to be on the list of prohibited substances, it has to meet two out of three criteria. And the criteria are 1) it's must be performance enhancing. So there's clearly some significant doubt as to whether cannabis is performance enhancing; 2) it has to present a potential risks the health of athletes. Now, there is evidence to show that abuse of cannabis can be a health risk, absolutely. But I think what people also have to take into consideration that cannabis is now legally permitted in many countries and societies across the world. Yes, if it's abused, it can be a health risk. But also one could apply that to many other substances which are not prohibited. For example, an abuse of caffeine can be bad for your health, eating too much sugar can be bad for your health. There are many things which can be bad for your health, if they are abused. And the third criteria for substance being prohibited is 3) that is against the spirit of sport. Now again, because cannabis is permitted legally in so many countries of the world, one could question whether it it is against the spirit of sports. So personally, I think that cannabis should be taken off the list are prohibited substances. And I suspect that that there's a very good chance that it may be by the end of this year. If that is the case, then the challenges that CBD brands and manufacturers are facing in terms of how appropriate these products are for athletes and how they cannot have them certified on programmes like informed sports, that may no longer be a challenge for them. So let's wait and see what happens. I'm hopeful there may be some changes at the WADA level, and that may make it easier for athletes to use CBD products and then easier for CBD brands to certify the non likes of informed sports.

Natalia 17:54
Thank you, Terence, for highlighting these three criteria for a substance to be prohibited and also for sharing your personal views as well. I'm sure it's very useful for our listeners to hear those. And we will also make sure to keep an eye out for the announcement around the informed programme that you mentioned and the next industry developments regarding cannabis. I know that you've already highlighted some research findings, but what is the state of the debates from a research perspective on the matter?

Terence 18:23
It is an interesting one. I suppose when one considers this question, there are a number of different types of research that that possibly are required. I've already mentioned that there has been research to show that the use of CBD products can present a risk to athletes. This as I mentioned was conducted by the Cologne University in the Cologne anti doping laboratory in a paper which was released in 2020. And I've also mentioned that LGC, the company I worked for has also done significant amount of testing or a testing study to show that CBD products can contain other banned cannabinoids and this therefore obviously presents a risk in terms of athletes. I think the industry itself also possibly has to do more research and provide more assurances to consumers, whether they're just your everyday consumer who may want to use a CBD product to help with, you know, maybe joint aches or sleep issues. Or an athlete who wants to use it for you know, helping them to recover from a tough competition, a tough game where they got a few bumps and bruises. I think more has to be done around that. It's still a relatively new industry, if you look at it compared to many other consumer products. And I think although there has been significant progress in terms of how the CBD industry is presenting itself and how they are providing a certain amount of assurance to consumers in terms of, you know, their products being not only safe but containing what the label claims, I think more has to be done. And I suppose it's like the development of any type of industry, things improve, people learn, manufacturers get better, brands get better, regulators get better. I think there's still more has to be done. I think the major brands out there and their major manufacturers have made significant progress in providing quality products. And do keep in mind that consumers pay quite a lot for CBD products. And they want to make sure that they're getting what they pay for, not only getting what they pay for, but getting products which are safe and provide the benefits which the products claim they do and the brands claim they do. So I think more research has to be done on that front. But certainly from a banned substance and the appropriateness for athletes perspective, I think, If WADA does not change its position on cannabis being a prohibited substance, then I think there's going to be quite a lot more research in terms of population studies and things like that, before, athletes can safely use CBD products going forward. I'm hopeful the position will change. Until such time as it does, athletes will have to continue to be very cautious. If it was my advice not to use CBD products if they are competing at a level whereby they may be tested for banned substances because they present a risk; very clearly they present a risk. And you know, athletes are still failing doping tests for cannabis and the cannabinoids that are contained in the cannabis plant.

Natalia 21:31
Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all of your insights and advice as well with us today Terence. We've covered a lot of great information for our listeners. And of course, the industry can always do more to improve. And before we end the show, do you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners?

Terence 21:48
Yeah, just a few comments, I suppose. One is that, you know, ESSNA has taken a very progressive approach to CBD products. They welcomed CBD products and brands into their membership. They have advised their members on some of the challenges that the CBD industry may be facing in terms of athletes using products and what's the regulations are and how those regulations have changed quite recently. So I think that's that's a very good thing. Certainly nobody in ESSNA or in companies such as LGC, it is never our intention to demonise CBD products at all. Now CBD has become very mainstream, and we accept that. There's plenty of evidence to show that CBD products have some really good qualities and some really good benefits. I think there's just one or two hurdles that have to be either overcome or addressed before there is absolute clarity as to how appropriate they are for elite athletes in terms of doping controls. There is a lot of good communication between the industry and between regulators and between bodies like ESSNA and companies like LGC to try and address some of those challenges. My final thoughts would be that if you are an elite athlete, think very carefully about using a CBD products if you are going to be facing doping controls. And know the risks may seem very minimal, but they do exist. There is evidence to suggest they do exist and who's to know what's the outcome would be for an athlete's who perhaps has been using CBD products for many months, what would be the accumulated effect of that if they then faced an anti doping test? The risks may be very small, but it still does exist. So my advice again, would be think very carefully about that and make sure that you don't expose yourself to a risk. But the debate is ongoing. There's lots of work, there's lots of interaction between the various stakeholders and hopefully in time, any risks will be minimised and the CBD products, which are mainstream now will be appropriate for athletes to use without any risk.

Natalia 23:53
Thank you for your last comments. It does seems like there is a lot of work in progress to address the challenges around CBD in sports nutrition. So once again, Terence, thank you so much for joining us today.

Terence 24:03
Thank you. It's been my pleasure. And thank you for having me on.

Natalia 24:06
Thank you also to our listeners for tuning in. And if you're interested in learning more about ESSNA or the CBD nutraceuticals market, make sure to check the hyperlinks available in the show notes. Thank you again and see you next time.

Vitafoods Insights 24:19
Thank you for tuning in. And don't forget to check the show notes that will allow you to link to the information discussed in today's podcast, as well as any sponsorship opportunities. Be sure to stay tuned, subscribe and even suggest to a friend.

 

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