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How Will Canada’s Recreational Marijuana Law Affect Athletes?

Will Canada’s New Pot Law Affect Athletes?
PHOTO Joe Diaz


How Will Canada’s Recreational Marijuana Law Affect Athletes?

Cannabis legalization has lead to a number of questions about how the policy will actually work.

It is just a matter of weeks before Canada officially launches its nationwide recreational marijuana market for adults 18 and older.

The country made history earlier this summer when it became the first G-7 nation to push this level of reform without consideration to international drug treaties. But the concept of fully legal weed has prompted a wealth of all-important questions with respect to how this change in drug policy is going to work. Like where does someone go to purchase legal weed, and does this mean that the Pizza Nova is going to stay open later than usual? But a more pressing inquiry into the what’s what of Canadian cannabis, perhaps the least dominate in the overall discussion, is the effect the new law will have on athletes?

According to a report from the Montreal Gazette, one of the primary reasons for this absence of dialogue is due to marijuana having a reputation for being a detriment to athletic performance. The article also goes on to suggest that the cannabis conversation has not included athletes as much as other topics because it remains on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned substances. The foundation, which is part of the International Olympic Committee based in Canada, believes marijuana is a health risk to athletes and finds it to be “a violation of the spirit of sport.”

But it’s not an all or nothing situation. In 2017, WADA announced that CBD, the non-intoxicating part of the cannabis plant, was no longer included in the ban. But the agency maintains that testing positive for THC (150 ng/mL) can lead to a doping violation.

There is a potential for more relaxed cannabis policies for athletes now that Canada is going fully legal, but more research is needed before the powers that be can be swayed. For now, regardless of whether marijuana is taxed and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol in the northern nation, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport will continue to adhere to the global anti-doping ban on marijuana. The CCES, which follows the codes established by WADA, says “we do have anecdotal accounts of athletes using it therapeutically with the intent to improve performance or recovery by managing pain, stress, or anxiety.” It also feels that cannabis “presents a liability to the safety of the athlete and their competitors.”

But cannabis is not really as much of a performance enhancement drug as it is a therapeutic alternative prescription medication. “Self-reported use of cannabis for pain and concussion management among elite athletes is increasingly being reported,” according to a new paper published in the latest Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

It is for this reason that cannabis use is becoming more prevalent in athletes. Come to find out that a lot of the stereotypes about weed making people lazy and discouraging them from physical activity were not exactly true. There has been an uprising over the years in physically active people using cannabis for its ability to motivate and improve concentration.

“It activates your brain and gets you in the zone,” Jim McAlpine, founder of the cannabis-themed athletic event the 420 Games, told Men’s Health. “I love to smoke before I ski or mountain bike or go surfing. It puts me in a place of higher focus, the Eye of the Tiger type thing. It’s not for everyone, but for some people who are more athletic and coordinated, it works.”

Still, there has been some evidence emerge throughout the years that shows how cannabis might be counterproductive to the fitness-driven lifestyle. Bouts of paranoia, which can come from consuming weed with a high THC content, is definitely not an experience athletes need to be dealing with at times of competition. And a study published last year in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that weed might be problematic when it comes to building and maintaining strength.

There are just a few safety concerns that need to be hashed out before the herb is given the type of clearance most regular users believe it deserves. Fortunately, the change in Canada’s pot laws could provide an opportunity for this level of research to take place. Some reports have suggested that the nation is positioned to become a global leader in medical marijuana studies.

“Legalization (of marijuana) allows us to have more honest and open conversations with athletes,” said professor Mark Ware, the lead study author in the above-mentioned paper on sports medicine.

Although it remains to be seen just how legalization will affect athletes in the long run, there is definitely an opportunity now to elaborate on this discussion. Athletes who incorporate cannabis into their workout routines should feel refreshed to learn that researchers are seemingly committed to discovering more about how cannabis translates into the realm of sports medicine.

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