Can Olympic Athletes Smoke Weed?
There’s no shortage of athletes who admit (or have been caught) using cannabis. In 2009, Michael Phelps was caught on film smoking a bong at a part only months after winning 8 gold medals at Beijing. And while he may not share the same fame as Phelps, Canadian snowboard champion Ross Rebagliati also tested positive for THC after winning gold at the Winter Olympics in 1998. Since then, a handful of other professional athletes have admitted to using cannabis, either recreationally or medicinally. But what does anti-doping law actually say about cannabis? Is it considered a performance-enhancing drug, and is it banned from professional sporting events like the Olympic games? With the Winter Olympics in full swing, we explore the question, 'can Olympic athletes smoke weed?'
As of 2017, athletes can officially use CBD
When it comes to the question 'can Olympic athletes smoke weed?', it depends on the distinction you're making. In 2017, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) made huge progress in its standing on cannabis by removing CBD from its Prohibited List.
“Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited,” the Agency wrote in a statement accompanying its new list of prohibited substances and clarified that synthetic CBD also wasn’t prohibited under its new rules.
However, the Agency made it clear that THC is still banned under international anti-doping law.It also warned athletes that some CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC which could show up in a test.
“Cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance,” the Agency wrote in its statement.
THC Remains Illegal During Or Before Competition
So, while WADA has loosened its grip on CBD, it’s still very serious about keeping weed out of official sports competitions like the Olympics. It’s important to note, however, that WADA isn’t as strict on THC as it once was.In 2013, the agency raised the amount of THC allowed in an athlete’s system to 150 nanograms/ml. And while this might not seem like a lot, it’s actually enough to let almost anyone off the hook as long as they’re not lighting up during the competition.Following the policy change in 2013, a WADA spokesperson made it clear that the Agency was really only interested in targeting athletes who use cannabis during competition.
"The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition,” Ben Nichols, spokesperson for WADA, told USA Today in an interview.
Why does the WADA care about weed, anyway?
So, we know about the official regulations regarding cannabis use in professional sports. But why do agencies like WADA really care so much about controlling cannabis in the first place? After all, with all the “stoner” stigma attached to weed, it can be hard to think of it as a “performance enhancing” drug. Well, according to officials at the International Olympic Committee, in order for a substance to be banned from competition, it needs to meet at least 1 of the following criteria:
- Have performance enhancing properties,
- Produce health risks, or
- Be against the spirit of sport.
When it comes to the question, 'can Olympic athletes smoke weed?', the last 2 criteria are the most troubling. After all, smoking cannabis has been associated with some serious health risks. And, while “against the spirit of sport” is really open to a lot of interpretation, Agencies like WADA and the IOC strongly believe that cannabis meets these criteria simply because it is illegal.
It's also interesting to note that there are health professionals and athletes who firmly believe cannabis can be performance enhancing. Ross Rebagliati, for example, has openly said cannabis helped enhance his awareness during training.
“I found that I was able to use cannabis to get more in tune with my equipment, the snow conditions, how my wax was running,” he said in an interview with The Inertia.
“All the little things like the color of the grass, or how sunny it is or how f*****g nice it is outside—those are the things you notice when you’re using cannabis.”
A handful of NFL players have also noted cannabis for its ability to help with recovery and pain. Eugene Monroe, former offensive tackle at the Baltimore Ravens, says cannabis helps him manage pain in a way prescription drugs never could.
“This pain is never going away. My body is damaged...I have to manage it somehow. Managing it with pills was slowly killing me. Now I’m able to function and be extremely efficient by figuring out how to use different formulations of cannabis,” he told The Washington Post.
So, can Olympic athletes smoke weed? Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, one thing is clear; Olympic athletes can’t smoke weed, at least not during the competition.