Clearing the Air


Upcoming pot legislation puts a cloud on the governing of such drugs in the OCAA (Photo by Chihiro Miya)

The upcoming pot legalization and the OCAA


Athlete’s competing within the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association will still need to abide by anti-doping rules when Canadian Senate dots the i’s and crosses the t’s on weed regulation Bill C-45.

Cannabis will remain a prohibited substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list when the Canadian government legalizes cannabis by around August 1, 2018. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES) is already planning ahead for the anticipated change.

“We’re developing some education materials to ensure that our athletes are not confused by the legal status and its status in sport. That information will be developed and disseminated to athletes in the education we do with them at the college level,” CCES CEO and President Paul Melia says.

OCAA President and Humber Athletic Director Ray Chateau says his athletes must comply with the anti-doping rules if they want to compete. Like the CCES, Chateau plans on creating a new section on cannabis use for their drug education meetings next season.

“There will be some discussion around the health effects and performance implications [of cannabis],” Chateau says.

Compared to legal over the counter medications, Chateau says the claim that cannabis enhances performance is questionable. Nonetheless, he says there will be more emphasis on its legal status.

“I don’t think they’re going to realize performance advantage and considering that a number of them are in sports that require significant cardio levels, smoking anything is not positive,” Chateau says.

The Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) adheres to WADA’s Prohibited List, which is an international standard under the World Anti-Doping Code. In other words – if cannabis remains criminalized in many other countries it will continue to remain a prohibited substance within the OCAA.

The CCES will continue to test for cannabis, but only during competition. Not so fast athletes. There are several ways to ingest cannabis and depending on how and when it’s consumed may increase the risk of testing positive in competition.

“Marijuana is a drug that is fat soluble, so it is stored in the fat cells of the body,”  Melia says. “For a college athlete, if they are using marijuana the night before a competition it is quite likely it will still be in their system during the competition.”

Midfielder Joren Ramsay-Marshall was one of three players randomly selected for testing in 2016. The Ontario University Athletics Wilfred Laurier soccer player ingested an edible within the week of the first game of the season that produced a positive urine sample.

“When they did come in, it was disappointing. I played more than half of the season and then I took a voluntary suspension of two months to get it out of the way and get back to the team as soon as possible,” Ramsay says.

Ramsay agrees that cannabis should not be removed from WADA’S prohibited list. His only request would be for the CCES to decrease the length of cannabis sanctions once the substance is legalized.

“The threshold that they’re looking for and the sanction should be a game suspension. If it’s legal I just don’t think it would be fair for us to have such long sanctions,” he says.

The rulings surrounding cannabis in sport could see a change soon as its beneficial properties can be used to treat pain and certain medical conditions.

Doctor of Chiropractic and neurological rehabilitation Daniel Demian treats 30 to 70 athletes every week at the P3 Health clinic in Toronto. He says he’d support leniencies being made for athletes using medical marijuana to aid in recovery.

“A lot of the strains that we’d recommend medically, like CBD, could be 10:1, 15:1 CBD to THC so you almost get little to no high feeling, but you get all the strong neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects,” Demian says.

Demian says finding a doctor with a good understanding of the health benefits of medical marijuana for those who qualify would be difficult. Depending on the injury, most medical doctors wouldn’t consider the substance to be a practical solution for treatment.

“It’s tough to say because someone can say, ‘I have performance anxiety’ or ‘I have a concussion’,” Demian says. “Those two may be equally deserving of that, but it could be that people with performance anxiety could be transient and it also could be a huge percentage of the athlete population, so it’d be very hard to regulate after that.”

According to the Government of Canada, there are potential health risks with regular use of cannabis. Some of the short-term effects on the brain include confusion, fatigue and impaired ability to react in any situation. Those who regularly consume cannabis increase the risk of permanently harming their concentration and coordination.

Professor at the Centre for Research into Sport & Society at the University of Chester, U.K., Ivan Waddington, was at the executive meeting in Copenhagen when WADA adopted the world anti-doping code in 2003.

In 2013, he co-authored research paper on doping in sport titled, Recreational Drug Use and Sport: Time For a WADA Rethink?, which focused on cannabis offering no performance enhancing capabilities to athletes.

“Almost all of the leading biochemists in the field are unanimous that cannabis is not performance enhancing. You can’t say athletes who use marijuana are cheating because they’re not taking it to enhance performance – in fact, it doesn’t enhance performance,” Waddington says.

Having written a number of doping in sport publications in his career, Waddington argues that banning recreational drugs is a way for WADA to regulate the private lifestyles of athletes away from the field. He also says the negative connotation associated with the word ‘drug’ is partly to blame.

“Their primary concern was ensuring athletes do not use performance enhancing drugs. If you start going beyond then you are not doing anything to maintain a level playing field in sport,” Waddington says.  “The ban on drugs, which was originally limited until 2003 to performance enhancing drugs, has since been extended to include non-performance enhancing recreational drugs. The whole debate about drugs in sport has been bound up with a debate about drug use in the wider society. It really has nothing to do with sport.”

Previous article
Next article