Athletes love to smoke weed. From UFC’s Nick Diaz to retired NFL player Ricky Williams, cannabis is being used in professional sports to ease crippling injuries and provide temporary relief from continuous training.
Testing for marijuana in high-level athletes has always been an issue. For Olympic athletes competing in Rio, this is also a huge concern. In 2012, an American wrestler was temporarily banned and a member of the American judoka team was sent home after testing positive for THC by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency before the London Olympic games.
So will Rio Olympians be subject to monotonous THC testing, despite the development of new cannabis laws? Yes, but not in the same way as before.
Looking for THC
A lot has changed since 2012. In 2013, the agency responsible for conducting drug tests on Olympic athletes updated its guidelines. The group announced that the amount of weed that is allowed in an athlete’s body has been raised 10 times (previously, the tolerated amount was 150 nanograms per milliliter). But cannabis is still on the list of banned substances during competition, which means that athletes could still be sent home if they light up a joint in their cabin. Technically, the list elaborates on THC-based cannabinoids, and does not mention anything about CBD (note: athletes should still check with the regulatory organization to confirm the allowance of substances not mentioned in the list).
Outside of competition (before and after) seems to be tolerated, depending on the requirements of other governing agencies. The increase of tolerated THC levels is a huge win for the sports community. Under the revised guidelines, athletes can partake in cannabis before competition and not have to worry about dormant traces of THC being the cause for their dismissal from the Olympic games. For habitual cannabis athletes, they would simply need to moderate the amount of weed they smoke prior to testing, in order to meet the tolerated amount by the agency during competition.
The reason for cannabis making it on the list of banned substances is controversial. Some individuals on the medical testing committee are fixated on the plant’s “performance-enhancing” properties, which played an influential role in the prohibition. “Yes, marijuana can be a performance-enhancing stimulant,” said the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission chairman Arne Ljungqvist. The organization did not provide any hard evidence to support their claims.
Based on the effects of the herb, in some ways it could give a slight competitive edge for athletes, but the edge isn’t that significant. On the road to capturing gold, caffeine probably plays a more influential role- a substance that is widely known for giving individuals a major energy boost during training. It is also not banned in the Olympics since 2004 (it was lifted by the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA]).
“The reason given was that it is unlikely that an athlete could ingest caffeine in excess of the Olympic standard without causing an adverse impact upon the body’s renal (kidney) and urinary systems, as the diuretic impact of high levels of caffeine will reduce hydration and stimulate urine production,” said San Diego Figure Skating Communications.