Over the past few years, the debate around marijuana in the sports world has raged. Now, with marijuana set to become legal in Canada, one major Canadian sports organization is standing firm.
U Sports has declared it will continue to treat marijuana as a banned substance.
The organization reported in August its intentions to follow current international guidelines, and have a threshold to allow for potential pot use while outside competition. The drug is listed as a banned substance “in competition” by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“As WADA is independent of any one country, its code is not affected by the legislative changes in Canada or any other nation,” U Sports said in a statement.
The Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) is the authority on drug testing for U Sports, through the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), and both are WADA compliant — utilizing the same banned substance list.
According to the CCES website, cannabis is banned under the CADP for a variety of reasons.
The CCES says while they do not consider cannabis to be performance enhancing, they have “anecdotal accounts of athletes using it therapeutically with the intent to improve performance or recovery by managing pain, stress or anxiety.”
The CCES also notes that while marijuana has therapeutic uses, “habitual use or abuse presents the potential for harm.”
The organization also argues that marijuana can impair athletes during events and presents a safety hazard for all involved.
Athletes will be allowed to use the drug out of competition — as cannabis only appears on the list of substances banned by WADA and the CADP “in competition” — but the athlete must pass a test before competing. Marijuana is allowed to be in an athlete’s system but under a certain threshold.
Stress management an issue
An odd spin in the public discourse around doping occurred during the 2018 Olympic winter games, when Alexander Krushelnitskiy, of Russia, was stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for a banned substance. Krushelnitskiy and his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova, had been competing in the first-ever mixed doubles curling event.
This development shook up the sports world, as Russia’s involvement in the 2018 games was in flux after a state-sponsored doping program was unearthed. However, the fact it happened in curling was more perplexing than shocking.
“I think most people will laugh and ask, ‘What could you possibly need doping for?’ as I am thinking,” Danish skip Madeleine Dupont said to Forbes. “I’m not even sure what use doping would be for in curling.”
Krushelnitskiy was found to have meldonium in his system, a drug typically used for medical conditions affecting blood supply to tissue and organs.
Meldonium is used to treat cardiovascular diseases by widening arteries to increase blood flow.
There is also evidence that the drug can help with increased endurance, exercise tolerance and reduced recovery time. WADA banned the drug in 2016 due to evidence of athletes using the drug with the intent to enhance their performance.
The banning of drugs like meldonium — done based on evidence of intent to use the drug to enhance performance — sets the precedent for marijuana to be banned by WADA, the CADP and U Sports.
Cannabis, with its known calming effects, could be used in the same way as beta-blockers. Beta-blockers reduce blood-pressure, heart rate, tremors and can even help with anxiety, which caused their ban.
In the high-stress environment of sports competition, having something to calm nerves, improve mental functioning or slow a racing heart would be a major benefit. However, when certain substanceslike vape juice that are used for that purpose illegally, it gives the offender a decided advantage over their rule-abiding peers.
There is hope for those looking to use the drug for the same stress-managing benefits when not in competition.
Former NBA player Cliff Robinson has been outspoken about the medicinal and stress-relieving benefits of marijuana.
“When you talk about guys playing at a professional level, there’s a lot of physical and mental stress that comes with that,” Robinson told the Portland Business Journal.
“To have something available to you that has health benefits, I don’t see the issue with it myself.”
Medical marijuana will remain prohibited in U Sports, regardless of any prescription. To continue — or start — smoking medicinal marijuana, athletes must gain a medical exemption from the CCES.