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Colour commentary: How cannabis affects athletes

by Nicholas Di Giovanni October 23, 2018
Colour commentary: How cannabis affects athletes

Newly legalized product still banned on anti-doping list

Cannabis became legal in Canada on Oct. 17, but is still a banned product on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited substances list. Any cannabis, with the exception of cannabidiol (CBD), is not allowed.

According to WADA’s rules, an athlete can have a maximum of 150 nanograms per millilitre of urine in their system when tested, raised from 15 ng/mL in 2013. However, this is much higher than the legal driving limit in Canada, which is 0.5 ng/mL of blood.

Even though WADA’s threshold for cannabis is so high, there is still debate on whether it should even be there in the first place. Olympic champion Ross Rebagliati believes it should be taken off WADA’s list. “If athletes are allowed to consume alcohol and tobacco let them have weed,” he told Reuters. “It is the only thing that is good for you of those three things.”

Rebagliati has an interesting past with cannabis. After winning the giant slalom in snowboarding at the 1998 Winter Olympics, Rebagliati was stripped of his gold medal for having THC in his blood. He was later given back the medal because cannabis was not banned by WADA at the time.

However, WADA states that, for a substance to be performance-enhancing, it must have the “potential to enhance performance, create a health risk for the athlete, and/or violate the spirit of the sport.” Studies have shown cannabis can ease pain and reduce anxiety.

Another study in the British Journal of Medicine stated that cannabis can impair motor skills, which can slow down reaction time, and be dangerous for faster sports. “Cannabis is effective only in allowing an athlete to relax and to escape from social pressures,” the authors concluded. They suggested that sports leagues should ensure their athletes are consuming cannabis responsibly, if at all.

Another use for cannabis in sports is to reduce pain, particularly in a physically-demanding sport like hockey. Many NHL enforcers have been known to use painkillers. Former New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild forward Derek Boogaard died in 2011 of an oxycodone and alcohol overdose.

Another former fighter, Riley Cote, told Global News that cannabis should be a legal substance, as it eases pain. “What do you self-medicate with? Opioids, muscle relaxants, mix ’em all together,” he said. “No wonder there’s so many depression issues and mental health and anxiety.”

Cannabis in sports is a subject that will be debated for a long time. But on a personal note, I’ve played hockey with players who have smoked before a game, and let me say, their performance was definitely not any better.

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