How long does cannabis stay in the body of an athlete?

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Last edited February 7, 2022 by alex-fray

“ How long does cannabis stay in the body of an athlete? ” is a question professional sports people are asking more frequently as high quality research around the plant’s therapeutic properties come to light.

In recent years a number of official sporting bodies such as the UFC have removed cannabis from their doping policies. With huge organisations like the NBA and NFL keen to understand more about the efficacy of the plant as a medicine are we about to see a huge shift in the acceptance of cannabis as a vital part of athletes recovery programmes? 

These modifications to the ways that organisations handle cannabis and the cannabinoids that occur naturally in the plant is undoubtedly a hot topic for many.

How Long Does Cannabis Stay In The Human Body: The Short Answer

The short answer is somewhere between 10-30 days but there are many factors that can affect this. 

When you ingest cannabis you will feel the effects quickly and they can last a few hours but evidence of the plant will stay in your body for potentially weeks.  

To start with we will look at the areas of the body where cannabis can be detected. There are four main areas; blood, urine, hair and saliva. What shows up is highly dependent on how much cannabis you are consuming and how regularly.  


THC can be identifiable in urine for up to several weeks after use. The specifics of how long will depend dramatically on the dose.

  • One off cannabis use will mean that THC is evident in your urine for about 5-8 days. 
  • Using cannabis 3-4 days a week will mean that THC could be detectable in your urine for 10-18 days after.
  • More regular consumption to the tune of 6 days a week can mean that you would show evidence of THC for up to 40 days from the point of consumption.

Daily, heavy use cannabis consumption could be even longer at around 50-60 days.

The urine test is probably the most common way of testing for THC. It is a fast and cheap test that is simple to perform. The test can check for both illegal and prescription drugs once the doctor or technician has analysed it. The test will return results within a few days but can be as fast as the same day in some cases. 

Broadly speaking a negative result will come back faster than a positive one. The reason for this is that a positive test often needs further analysis. Normally a second test is required for confirmation if the results were positive. The second test will usually be a GC-MS test (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry). Test results will be delivered and explained by the person who carried out the test.


The hair test is more expensive than the urine test and is used to detect substances that have been in the body for longer periods of time. There is a requirement to use a piece of hair that is 1.5 inches long at a minimum. Given that your hair grows at 0.5 inches a month this sample size may contain evidence of drug use from up to 3 months ago. 

The hair test is seen as the most accurate test when it comes to looking for evidence of THC in the human body.


Broadly speaking THC does not spend long in the bloodstream as it is metabolised very quickly by humans. You can expect it to last somewhere between a few hours and two days. 

If you are a heavy user you may find that it is present in the blood for 5-7 days. The THC blood test is mainly used as an extra step or follow up to an initial test that had shown a false positive – this is where a test detected the presence of a substance when a person has not actually taken the substance. 

The blood test is the most expensive form of testing and also the most intrusive. It is the most accurate form of test when looking for evidence of drugs but only when performed in a specific window of time. It also requires specialised equipment to deliver the test. 


Normally THC is evident in saliva for one or two days and will show up on a test after an hour of consumption. The saliva test is often used as a means to identify consumption in drivers although there is a question about how accurate they are overall. 

The saliva test is the most common and non-intrusive form of testing when it comes to cannabis and THC in humans. It is simple to administer, normally an oral mouth swab but may still require lab equipment to process. 

There is no one size fits all in terms of understanding how cannabis moves through the body but let’s look at some of the parameters.

Why is THC detectable for so long in the human body?

Despite the fact that THC metabolises out of the bloodstream relatively quickly there are still in excess of 80 metabolic byproducts that it can break down into. This means that THC will remain detectable in the body for much longer than many people expect because of these byproducts. An important point to note is that everyone processes the metabolites (THC metabolic byproducts) at different speeds. 

The metabolites are generally stored in the fat tissues across your body and processed out over time. The main ways this happens are through urine and feces but the time it takes for this processing to happen will depend dramatically on how much cannabis you have consumed, your metabolism, calorie intake and other elements. In a nutshell the more body fat you have the longer it will take to process out of your body. 

Our metabolisms are the key variable that affects how we process cannabis. If you have a fast metabolism then you are going to be able to process the THC at a faster rate than someone with a slower metabolism. 

Our bodies will all work at different rates when it comes to the metabolization of THC and therefore how long it stays in our system. It doesn’t matter if people are similar age, weight, gender, genetics are the key differentiator; faster metabolisms will naturally process THC at an increased speed.

That said there are other factors that are important to consider, let’s look at some of them now

1. Exercise – Getting your blood pumping through some high intensity exercise will provide a massive boost when getting THC out of your body. The simple mechanics behind this are that you are sweating out fluids and by proxy the THC byproducts that exist within the bloodstream. One thing worth noting is that training hard hours before a drugs test will have the opposite effect as the concentration of THC in your bloodstream will increase as the fat cells will release any stored up THC.

2. Body Fat  – Body fat plays a big role in how long THC stays in the body. THC is stored in fat cells and people with a higher body fat percentage are more likely to metabolise THC at slower speeds than those with a low body fat percentage.

3. Eating habits – Food is a big part of how your body processes THC as it is linked to your metabolism. There are many different food types that can speed up your metabolism such as coffee, spicy food (hot sauce anyone) and others. There is also a body of evidence that suggests smaller meals more frequently may also help with speeding up your metabolism so it’s worth considering how you eat, when you eat as well as what you are eating. 

4. Potency of cannabis –  It goes without saying that the strength of the cannabis will play a major part in how long the evidence of consumption will stay in your body. A higher strength strain with more THC in it  will remain in your system longer than if you used a lower strength strain or variety. 

5. Frequency – As stated earlier the level of cannabis consumer you are will indicate how long THC will stay in your system. The more often you consume THC, the more byproducts will be evident in your body. THC consumption is cumulative so you are storing it up in your body through regular use be that in fat cells or otherwise.

Four Ways to Get THC Out of Your System Quickly

There are some ways in which you can help accelerate the processing of THC in the body. Working through some of the areas listed above is a good starting point.

  1. Increase your levels of activity with exercise
  2. Reduce the amount of calories you are taking into your body,
  3. Up the amount of water you’re drinking, all of these will help flush the THC from your fat cells in the body. 
  4. It goes without saying that these efforts should also be supported by not consuming any more cannabis while you are flushing your system out.  

As we can see there are many different ways that the body can process cannabis and THC but it is difficult to make accurate predictions as to how long THC will stay in the body as everyone is totally different. What is important is to understand all of the different factors that can affect how you as an individual may process it. 

Why are pro athletes using cannabis? 

There are increasing amounts of pro athletes speaking out about their use of cannabis to manage pain and the other ancillary effects of playing elite level sports. The numbers of active players using cannabis can be significant. In this report up to 85% of NBA and 89% of the NFL players are using cannabis on a weekly basis. Closer to home many UK based rugby stars are turning to cannabis based medicinal products and even starting their own businesses around the plant.

A major part of why these players are using cannabis are for its natural therapeutic properties such as helping with inflammation, chronic pain, anxiety and other conditions. This is as opposed to using opioids and the wide range of negative side effects they bring.

So can we expect to see cannabis come off the NBA banned substances list? Not right now but it might not be too far away as Adam Silver the NBA commissioner states “Cannabis is currently on our banned substances list. We are however, keen to learn more about the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis”.

This would be a significant breakthrough and ahead of that CBD could be allowed in the NBA sooner. Which brings us to our final question…

Does CBD Oil Show Up On a UK Drug Test 

The short answer is no due to the fact that CBD products should not contain THC and normally you will only be consuming around 100-200mg a day. CBD is non-psychoactive and not illegal in the UK so it is not a controlled substance. 

You can go into most health stores in the UK and find CBD products. The key is making sure they are what they say they are! Many CBD products do not deliver what they say on their label so make sure you check the source of your products. That said a high quality medical grade CBD product may help with many of the conditions outlined above.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified physician before seeking treatment for a medical condition.


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