Olympic Athletes Will Not Disqualified for Marijuana Use
By: Kelly Vo
While you won’t see an Olympic athlete take a toke during the competition, it’s not completely out of the question. Since 2013, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has loosened its rules against cannabis use for athletes. The intent is no longer to stop athletes from smoking in the days and weeks leading up to competition, but to prevent cannabis use on the day of competition.
That’s a big change from the 1998 Winter Games when Ross Rebagliati won an Olympic gold for snowboarding. After his win, Ross tested positive for just 17.8 ng/ml of cannabis, 2.8 ng/ml over the limit, and almost lost his medal. Now, that low threshold wouldn’t even register. The new rules allow for up to 150 nanograms of cannabis per milliliter.
The new threshold means that Olympic athletes would need to be dedicated cannabis consumers to test positive. In fact, last year, out of the 2,776 in-competition tests conducted by WADA, only four athletes tested positive. That’s an impressively low figure.
Why Is Cannabis Banned?
However, the question is, “Why is cannabis on the list of banned substances in the first place?” It’s true that it seems a little strange. Marijuana isn’t known for having any obvious performance-enhancing abilities. And honestly, while it could be funny to watch a high-diver who’s high, it doesn’t seem like a smart move for safety or performance.
In truth, cannabis originally made the list of banned substances because of its illegality and has stayed on WADA’s list because it could “possibly” affect performance during competition. Whether positively or negatively, a drug’s ability to affect performance is what it comes down to.
WADA doesn’t just ban drugs that make you stronger and faster; they also ban drugs that could have any effect on performance, including causing impairment or increasing confidence. There’s also concern about the effect of cannabinoids on athlete performance, thanks to its anti-inflammatory qualities.
Is Cannabis Use Really a Concern?
The reality is that until the rules were loosened, cannabis accounted for a significant number of WADA’s doping violations. Out of the 147 sanctions since 2008, 28 were for cannabis. And, in 2003, cannabinoids accounted for 13.9 percent of all WADA samples that tested positive for a banned substance.
For those hopeful Olympians who do fail their test, the impact on their careers can be disastrous.
Last summer, before the rules on cannabis were loosened, Nick Delpopolo—an American judo athlete—was sent home from the London Games after eating a baked good laced with pot. As for Stephany Lee, an American wrestler who tested positive for cannabis, she’s been banned from the sport for a year.
Cannabis Using Olympians
The good news is that Olympians who used cannabis during their training prior to their arrival at the Games shouldn’t have an issue meeting WADA’s THC standards. In fact, both Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps have admitted to using marijuana in the past, and it definitely hasn’t seemed to hurt their performance or to tarnish the name of their respective sports.
At the end of the day, while it’s doubtful that cannabis will ever come off of WADA’s list, the hope is that these new standards will allow Olympians to use marijuana as a pain reliever, relaxant or confidence booster at any time not during competition.