Why is Cannabis Banned in Sports?

An anecdote of bobsledding, shooting, weightlifting and Cannabis.

If a substance enhances the performance in any sport, it becomes banned for all sports.

A few years ago, I was invited to tryout for the US bobsled team at the Olympic training camp in Lake Placid. The first time I walked into my room at camp, I saw may have seen a man with his back to me, pointing a gun directly in front of him. I stopped moving so as not to spook him… and avoid getting shot. When he saw me out of the corner of his eye, he did a double-take and jumped up with a little roar. It turned out that was my roommate, a guy from the US shooting team.

Over the next few days we discussed how we trained, and how our training regimens differed. Our two sports could not be more different from each other in nearly every aspect. One of the most interesting similarities, though, was the use of cannabis as a performance enhancer. Cannabis has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate (after initial onset of effects) and anxiety, and has helped athletes particularly in shooting sports so much that it was actually deemed a performance enhancing substance.

The World Anti-Drug Agency, known as WADA, is the organization that oversees testing for performance enhancing substances in athletes for Olympic sports. If a substance enhances the performance in any sport, it becomes banned for all sports. So thanks to the Olympic shooters, until May 2013, all athletes had to stop consuming cannabis 1-2 months before a competition. If it was found in their bloodstream they would be disqualified.

After May 2013, WADA increased the threshold for detectable cannabis for athletes by 10 times, going from 15 ng/mL to 150 ng/mL. Essentially, this now allows athletes to consume cannabis as they train, and allows them enough time to drop below the test threshold. Because the metabolic rates for athletes are higher than the average individual, cannabis is broken down and excreted faster for highly active people.

Of course, governing bodies of sports do not want people stoned and flying around in bobsleds, where serious bodily injury or death could be the result of slightly delayed reaction time. But by raising the threshold, they seem to recognize the reality – athletes like to get high too.

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