Why Is Cannabis Banned in Sporting Events?

In California, medical cannabis has been legal since 1996 and recreational cannabis since 2016. That’s why you can contact your favorite herb delivery service in the state to get your preferred cannabis products at any time.

However, despite these big steps towards the more widespread acceptance of marijuana as a safe, legal, and helpful substance, there are more hurdles to overcome. For example, cannabis is still banned in worldwide competitive sporting events like the Olympics. Considering that it doesn’t act in the same way as performance-enhancing drugs like steroids, some are baffled by this ruling.

Below, we discuss the reasons behind this ban and why it should be reconsidered:

Why Are Drugs Banned in Sporting Events?

To understand the reasoning behind the banning of cannabis in sporting events, we must first understand why drugs in general are banned in the first place. Essentially, some drugs have effects on the human body that might give someone an unfair advantage over their competitors. In addition to health risks, the use of drugs also weakens the values promoted by sports, like teamwork and fairness.

There’s also the fact that many people, especially young children, look up to sports icons. If they’re allowed to use performance-enhancing drugs, then they are setting a bad example. This will then reflect upon the sport, and tarnish its reputation and that of its governing bodies.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) specifically bans the following in competition:

  • S6: Stimulants
  • S7: Narcotics
  • S8: Cannabinoids
  • S9: Glucocorticoids

What Are Cannabinoids and How Do They Work?

Cannabinoids are compounds that interact with cannabinoid receptors found all over the human body. These interactions then cause changes in the cells and the way they behave. For example, if a cannabinoid binds to a receptor near the brain, that person’s mood may improve.

Do note that there are many other sources of cannabinoids, like some species of Echinacea (daisies), as well as cacao and even carrots. The human body also produces endocannabinoids, naturally occurring neurotransmitters that act like cannabinoids.

There are also different types of cannabinoids, and each one has its own unique effects. The most well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the most highly psychoactive cannabinoid and usually the focus of sporting bans, while CBD is the one most associated with cannabis’s medicinal properties. Beyond these two, there are more than 100 cannabinoids unique to cannabis. These include THCV or tetrahydrocannabivarin, CBDV or cannabidivarin, CBG or cannabigerol, CBN or cannabinol, and THCA or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, among many others.

Finally, there are ways to synthesize chemicals to produce artificial cannabinoids. Some of them mimic natural cannabinoids, while some are exclusively manmade. These are usually more potent and more dangerous, which is why they’re considered by the government and other bodies of authority as illegal.

Why Is Cannabis Banned In Sporting Events?

According to WADA all natural and synthetic cannabinoids—with the exception of cannabidiol or CBD—are prohibited in competition. This is because cannabinoids meet the criteria for prohibited drugs in competition, which are:

  1. The substance poses a health risk to athletes
  2. The substance has the potential to enhance performance
  3. The substance violates the spirit of sport

According to WADA, those who consume cannabis (natural or otherwise) may engage in risk-taking behavior and endanger their health. There are also a wide range of effects of cannabinoids, which can cause athletes to either have improved or impaired performance. Moreover, because of differences in physiology, some athletes may metabolize cannabinoids slower or faster than others. All of these factors combined create an unequal playing field.

It was only in 2019 that WADA exempted CBD from their list of prohibited drugs in competition. However, the caveat is that the CBD should be pure—as in there are no traces of any other chemical within it. While it’s possible to extract pure CBD from the cannabis plant, it is extremely difficult to do. This means that even medical marijuana with high CBD content and approved for safe use may contain other cannabinoids, which are prohibited by WADA.

Should Cannabis Be Removed From the Prohibited List?

Authorities are split between removing cannabis from the prohibited list of drugs and maintaining its ban. Some argue that alcohol, which has more and higher risks than cannabis, is no longer included in WADA’s prohibited list since 2018. Thus, it’s only logical to unban cannabinoids as well. The Netherlands has also expressed its concerns that, if WADA continues to prohibit cannabinoids, athletes who rely on products with CBD to treat inflammation may stop using it.

On the other hand, THC is considered a substance of abuse, much like cocaine and heroin. This, according to some experts, is enough of a reason to ban most cannabinoids from sporting events.

Where Do Things Stand Right Now?

Currently, the cannabinoids are still included in the 2023 WADA Prohibited List. The update states that while THC, in particular, has not been proven to enhance performance, there are still neuropsychological effects that cannot be ignored. As it is, it looks like there are going to be more battles to fight if advocates are to pursue the removal of cannabinoids from the WADA List.


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