Athletes will soon be able to breathe a skunky sigh of relief as The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) implements its new regulations which will loosen restrictions on cannabis. The regulations will go into effect as of January 1, 2018, and completely remove cannabidiol or CBD, one of the primary medicinal compounds in cannabis, from the list.
According to the American arm of the WADA, the organization makes its determinations on which substances to ban, “based on current scientific and medical knowledge,” suggesting that research is increasingly returning positive results and that the agency is slowly accepting the use of cannabis.
In 2013 the WADA loosened its policy on marijuana consumption raising the acceptable THC/blood level to 150ng/mL – ten times the previous threshold. Anything lower is not required to be reported by testers.
That announcement, which was made before the 2016 Rio Olympics was met with an outpouring of support and claims that ‘Olympians can now get high’. In reality, it allowed athletes to consume cannabis before and after, but not during the Olympics. These new regulations will go into effect just before the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
The Prohibited List is a relatively recent addition to the WADA’s work having only been compiled in 2004. Since then, cannabinoids have been prohibited under all three parameters including performance-enhancement, actual or potential health risk and violation of the spirit of sport.
According to the WADA, cannabis is a performance enhancer because it is known to impair physical activity. The agency does acknowledge that it can also decrease performance, but vaguely cites additional factors that could also give athletes a boost, namely its ability to relieve muscle pain post-workout. Its anxiety reducing potential is also cited as a performance enhancer.
In practice, the best case for its performance enhancement is Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who set the record for most medals won in the modern Olympic Games while also being a regular smoker.
And Phelps is far from the only one, the long list of includes Usain Bolt, Jamie Anderson and many more.
Last year, former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams told Sports Illustrated that 70 percent of professional football players smoke weed. In 2004, doping regulations cost Williams his spot with the team at the height of a promising career.
In a rather contradictory fashion, the WADA also cites cannabis as a potential health risk which is rooted in studies on its effects on the heart and mind. Its potential to raise heart rates, the WADA says, puts athletes at increased risk of heart attack while the infamous paranoia could negatively affect an athlete’s performance.
Yet perhaps the most bogus claim made by the WADA is that cannabis violates the spirit of sport. As much as couch-lock can violate the spirit of any physical activity, the reason given by the agency is that the substance is illegal and is therefore not in keeping with the moral values that ought to be held up by sports organizations.
The USADA cites a range of research to support their claims including one study from the Journal of Sports Medicine. Much of its research also seems to come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a largely anti-drug organization.
Previous decisions made by anti-doping officials imply that the stigma behind the substance plays a larger role in its banning. At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Japan, snowboarder Ross Rebagliati made history for what should have been the sport’s first gold medal win. Instead, the Canadian made history for being the first athlete to have his medal taken away after testing positive for marijuana. Luckily, Rebagliati’s medal was returned to him when Olympic officials discovered that marijuana was not on the list of banned substances. The Olympic Committee wouldn’t officially ban cannabis for another decade in 1999.