Here’s the dope on cannabis and varsity sports

The rules around doping won't change for varsity athletes when cannabis becomes legal. Photo credit: Logan Caswell

Cannabis will be legal in Canada in less than two weeks, but varsity athletes at Durham College (DC), UOIT won’t be able to smoke up and then compete.

The Canadian government will be legalizing recreational cannabis on Oct. 17. The minimum age to buy, use or possess is 19.

“My current understanding is that the legalization process won’t [apply to] our varsity athletes,” says Saul Behrman, DC, UOIT certified athletic therapist, whose role includes dealing with all health and wellness issues related to varsity athletes, in an email.

Under current policy, student-athletes are not allowed to consume cannabis prior to competition and that policy remains in effect after the drug becomes legal.

For Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) student-athletes, who are subjected to Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP), the legalization of cannabis will not have any affect on current drug policies.

The CCAA website states, “cannabis continues to be a prohibited substance and a positive test can still result in a sanction.”

Behrman says cannabis is still on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s prohibited list that is used by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES) and will remain prohibited during competition.

WADA’s prohibited list applies internationally, therefore, is not subjected to Canadian law updates, says Behrman. Cannabis will soon join a list of substances which although legal in Canada, are prohibited in sport, adds Behrman.

Cannabis, hashish, marijuana, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are on WADA’s prohibited list, but only during competition.

In order for a substance to be listed as prohibited, according to WADA’s website, it must meet two of following three criteria: “its use has potential to, or can enhance performance; its use presents an actual or potential health risk; its use violates the spirit of sport.”

Behrman says varsity athletes are required to be drug tested.

“Every year [athletes] complete an online seminar and we discuss some commonly used medications that they may be tested for,” says Behrman.

“Many sinus medications contain stimulants and are banned in certain amounts during competition, but they are obviously legal,” says Behrman.

Athletes can take banned medications if they are doctor prescribed. During testing, athletes may have to provide proof showing documentation of the diagnosis and medication prescription, says Behrman.

“We have [athletes] come in and ask if they can use certain cold medicines, but the doctors and nurses are usually aware of what prescriptions they are [allowed] to use,” says Vijay Panda, manager at Lovell Drugs, Campus Health Centre.