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The World Anti-Doping Agency Is Wrong About Cannabis

track and field sports athlete exercise

Earlier this month members of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List Expert Advisory Group published an editorial article in the journal Addictionas first reported by Marijuana Moment. In the editorial, members of WADA tried to ‘justify’ their position that “cannabis should remain a banned substance in sport.”

“For any substance or method to be considered for inclusion in the Prohibited Substances List as per the World Anti-Doping Code, two of the following three equally-important criteria must be met: (1) it enhances or has the potential to enhance sport performance, (2) it represents an actual or potential risk to the health of the athlete and (3) it violates the spirit of the sport as defined in the Code.” the editorial stated.

In regards to the first criterion, the WADA members stated, “while there may be benefits perceived by some athletes, there were no scientific data to support performance enhancement.”

“There was far more agreement on the second criterion—actual or potential risk to the health of the athlete.” the editorial also stated. “There is a comprehensive historical literature as well as a rapidly growing body of contemporary literature supporting the assertion that cannabis use can negatively impact the health, safety or wellbeing of the athlete.”

I will not subject you in this article to the reefer madness talking points offered up as examples of ‘harm’ to athletes in the editorial article, but trust me, it’s basically every run-of-the-mill cannabis prohibitionist talking point. To be fair, there were citations offered up, but also to be fair, the editorial’s talking points are easily refuted by real living examples in the form of a laundry list of elite athletes who have responsibly consumed cannabis during their successful careers. As I have long stated, cannabis doesn’t ruin an athlete’s career; cannabis prohibition does.

Arguably the most ridiculous part of the WADA editorial article involved their discussion of the third criterion – violating the ‘spirit of sport.’ The WADA editorial listed four sub-criteria and their ‘justification’ for how cannabis use violated each one:

  • Excellence in performance: this could be undermined by consumption of cannabis during the in-competition period.
  • Character and education: the role model aspect is not compatible with use of a substance that is still illegal in most parts of the world.
  • Respect for rules and laws: its use violates the law in most countries in the world, in addition to Anti-Doping Organization rules in some instances.
  • Respect for self and other participants: the welfare and safety of other participants may be compromised by impaired judgment associated with the presence of cannabis in an athlete in-competition.

WADA goes on to describe how it has raised its THC threshold, and that its goal is to only prohibit “in-competition” use. However, as long as there is an arbitrary THC threshold, there’s always the possibility, if not likelihood, that there will be people with high tolerances who are in no way impaired, yet have too much metabolized THC in their system to pass a test.

If WADA’s true goal is to only prohibit in-competition use, then field sobriety-equivalent tests are a much more effective and accurate way to go about it, particularly when considering that these are elite athletes who are surrounded by other elite athletes. Impairment of any kind would stand out like a sore thumb.

Despite what WADA seems to be implying, no one is advocating for athletes to show up stoned out of their minds to what amounts to the biggest moment in the athletes’ entire lives when they need to be as razor-sharp as possible.

Elite athletes can have large amounts of metabolized THC in their system and still excel “in performance.” NBA players are set to do exactly that this upcoming season, with Kevin Durant presumably having more metabolized THC in his system than ever before from previous use, and yet dominating as hard as ever the day of the game.

Claiming that someone who consumes cannabis cannot be a role model is peak modern-day reefer madness stigma, and WADA should be ashamed of that statement, if for any reason because it does not calculate for compassionate medical cannabis use whatsoever and is blatantly ableist against potential athletes that suffer from conditions that they treat with cannabis instead of more harmful substances like many pharmaceutical drugs.

“Respect for rules and laws” goes both ways, in that there are now many countries in the world where cannabis use is permitted in some manner, or in the case of the United States, local laws that permit cannabis use. Cannabis policies around the globe are being modernized, and WADA knows that (or at least has no excuse for not knowing that). To say that this WADA talking point is disingenuous is an understatement.

The fourth talking point, “respect for self and other participants,” makes it sound like if an athlete were to have too much metabolized THC in their system they would automatically start harming other competitors. That insinuation is blatant nonsense.

Athletes want to be able to make the safer choice when relaxing and/or treating their ailments/conditions ‘off the clock.’ They are not going to risk everything that they have worked so hard for by taking gravity bong hits an hour before a major competition, and even if they did, it’s not as if they would then go stumbling around the competition punching their competitors.

The topic of cannabis policy and professional sports is worthy of a serious discussion, and unfortunately, WADA did the entire discussion a huge disservice by publishing what amounts to an anti-cannabis propaganda hit job. Hopefully they do better in the future.

World Anti-Doping Agency