Performance enhancing dope: Should sport ban cannabis?

LONDON Mon Aug 6, 2012 7:14pm EDT

Nicholas Delpopolo (L) of the U.S. (blue) fights with South Korea's Wang Ki-Chun during the men's -73kg quarter-final judo match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in a July 30, 2012 file photo. Delpopolo has been expelled from the Olympic Games after testing positive for marijuana. Delpopolo, who had finished seventh in the 73kg judo event, accepted his expulsion, but said that the positive test had been caused by inadvertently eating food that he did not realise had been baked with the recreational drug. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/files

Nicholas Delpopolo (L) of the U.S. (blue) fights with South Korea's Wang Ki-Chun during the men's -73kg quarter-final judo match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in a July 30, 2012 file photo. Delpopolo has been expelled from the Olympic Games after testing positive for marijuana. Delpopolo, who had finished seventh in the 73kg judo event, accepted his expulsion, but said that the positive test had been caused by inadvertently eating food that he did not realise had been baked with the recreational drug.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon/files

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LONDON (Reuters) - The expulsion of an American judo player from the London 2012 Olympic Games on Monday after he tested positive for marijuana prompted scientists to question the sense behind the drug's inclusion on the World Anti Doping Agency's (WADA) banned list.

Few experts think marijuana, or cannabis - whether it's eaten or smoked - can do much to enhance the kind of speed, strength, power or precision that Olympic athletes strive for.

And many wonder whether the expensive time and effort of sporting drug testers might be better spent catching serious cheats who top up their blood with EPO or pop anabolic steroids to boost testosterone levels and muscle growth.

"There's no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there's no reason for it to be banned by WADA," said David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London.

"I can't think of any sport in which it would be an advantage. And it seems ludicrous that someone could quite legally smoke cannabis in Amsterdam in the morning and then come over to London in the afternoon and be banned from competing."

The heart of the problem is where to draw the line between performance enhancing drugs - which many experts agree should be prohibited in sport because they make the contest unfair - and recreational drugs like marijuana, which is unlikely to boost performance but could give sport a bad image.


While it is generally accepted that cannabis is unlikely to give athletes any advantage in fast-paced sports, some experts say it could prove helpful in sports like shooting or golf where a steady hand is needed.

Under WADA's rules, athletes face a two-year ban if cannabis is found in their system while they are in competition.

But the anti-doping body does not sanction those who test positive for marijuana outside of competition times, while they are in training camps or during rest periods.

Scientists say this smacks of double standards and suggests WADA bans cannabis for political rather than scientific reasons.

"The problem is the elite athletes should be seen as role models for young kids, and so they ban cannabis because they don't want to have the image of gold medalists smoking joints," said one British-based sports scientist who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A photo of the American swimming champion Michael Phelps inhaling from a glass pipe used for smoking marijuana in 2009 sparked criticism from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In a statement released shortly after the picture was published by a British tabloid newspaper, Phelps admitted to smoking pot and apologized for what he described as "bad judgment". He did not receive a doping ban because it was not "in competition".

Experts say that row, as well as Monday's ruling on American judoka Nick Delpopolo - who said he inadvertently ate the drug in a marijuana brownie - is far more to do with the image of sport than any form of cheating.

"It's hard to imagine how smoking a joint or eating marijuana brownies is going to help somebody in judo," said Michael Joyner, a member of the Physiological Society and a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in the United States.

"My advice to WADA is that they should focus on drugs that are clearly performance enhancing in the sports where they are clearly performance enhancing."


Some national sporting bodies are also kicking back against WADA's stance.

Australia's Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports called in May for marijuana to be removed from the list saying it was wrong to group it with performance enhancing drugs like human growth hormone and steroids.

Substances on WADA's banned list should meet two of the following criteria: they are proven to be performance enhancing, they are dangerous to the health of athletes, or they are contrary to the spirit of sport.

While there are few signs that marijuana can enhance sporting performance, there is evidence to suggest it could have a negative impact.

Studies have shown that THC - the ingredient in cannabis that induces the "high" - increases blood pressure and heart rate while also decreasing cardiac stroke volume, leading to diminished peak performance.

It can also slow reaction times, cause problems with coordination, reduce hand-eye coordination, and interfere with visual perception.

Anti-doping authorities were not keen to discuss the issue on Monday.

Officials at UK Anti-Doping declined to comment, and when Reuters sent emails to WADA's media relations office asking for a statement on why cannabis is banned, WADA responded by saying it was too busy to provide a comment on Monday.

WADA president John Fahey indicated in May the agency may look at changing the criteria for cannabis as a banned substance for athletes, but no decision is expected this year.

(Editing by Ossian Shine/Greg Stutchbury)

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Comments (4)
leeprew wrote:
Well of course it is only banned for purely political reasons! The only benefit I can see of ingesting cannabis if you are an athlete or sports person is to help you relax. Of which any athlete or sports person is freely allowed to do so with drugs far more harmful and dangerous (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine) yet are not tested for and persecuted by using them. In fact they are encouraged to do so and help promote those that actually often sponsor sporting events. If there was a mega-corporation marketing and selling cannabis I’m sure the likes of Michael Phelps and those others whose names have been tarnished with the “drugs cheat” branding would in fact be poster boys/girls with bongs in their hands and smiles on their faces (and 22 medals round Michael’s neck). Hypocrisy in all its ugly glory!

Aug 06, 2012 4:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
malcolmkyle wrote:
Corporate greed and individual bigotry have accelerated us towards a situation where all the usual peaceful and democratic methods, which can usually be employed to reverse such acute damage, no longer function as our founders intended. Such a political impasse coupled with our great economic tribulation is precisely that which throughout history has often ignited extreme social upheaval and violent revolution.

“To function as the founders intended, our republic requires that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
—Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to William Stephens Smith, November 13, 1787

Fortunately we are left with one last peaceful avenue for change: Jury Nullification.

Jury Nullification is a constitutional doctrine that allows juries to acquit defendants who are technically guilty but do not deserve punishment. All non-violent ‘drug offenders’ who are not selling to children, be they users, dealers or importers, clearly belong in this category.

If you sincerely believe that prohibition is a dangerous and counter-productive policy, then you must stop helping to enforce it. You are entitled to act according to your conscience: Acquit the defendant/s if you feel that true justice requires such a result. You, the juror, have the very last word!

* It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict.
* You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention before taking your seat on a jury.
* You are also not required to give a reason to the other jurors on your position when voting. Simply state that you find the accused not guilty!
* Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. If the Judge and the other jurors disapprove, too bad. There is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

“It is not only [the juror's] right, but his duty … to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.” —John Adams

We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for: PLEASE VOTE TO ACQUIT!

Aug 06, 2012 6:36pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
umojaresearch wrote:
We live in a country the suggest this herb is illegal, but you can buy food products and its seeds for cooking.

If they really want to ban the drug, why is it allowed to be sold as a food product.

Marijuana, or cannabis in this instance should be forgiven, in my opinion, just as the woman who worked in the White House and tested positive for drugs when she ate poppy seeds on her muffin, sold in the White House Cafeteria

Aug 06, 2012 7:08pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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