Rules Change on Olympic Marijuana Testing

Jul 18, 2013

It’s been 15 years since Ross Rebagliati won snowboarding’s first Olympic gold medal at the 1998 Win­ter Games — and then nearly lost that medal after he tested pos­i­tive for mar­i­juana. Since then, the drug has become an inte­gral part of Rebagliati’s life. Next month Rebagliati will open a med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary in Whistler, British Colum­bia, called “Ross’ Gold.” The Cana­dian has also become a pub­lic face for pot-smoking ath­letes around the globe. “Any­time some­body gets in trou­ble for weed I’m the guy the media calls,” Rebagliati, who lives out­side Whistler, told USA TODAY Sports. “I went on NBC to defend (Michael) Phelps for smok­ing respon­si­bly. I told them, Hey, it’s zero calo­ries, zero fat!’” Now 42, Rebagliati believes that chang­ing atti­tudes toward mar­i­juana — it’s now legal for med­i­c­i­nal pur­poses in Canada and 14 U.S. states — jus­ti­fies the drug’s removal from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned sub­stances. Like cocaine and heroin, cannabis is banned dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion by WADA, which over­sees drug test­ing world­wide in Olympic sports. WADA recently amended its rules on cannabis, rais­ing the thresh­old for a pos­i­tive test from 15 nanograms per mil­li­liter to 150 ng/ml. In 1998 at the Nagano Games, Rebagliati recorded a level of 17.8 ng/ml, and argued the test resulted from second-hand smoke, which he still says. Ben Nichols, a spokesper­son for WADA, said the rais­ing of the thresh­old is meant to catch only ath­letes who smoke in the days before a com­pe­ti­tion. The drug isn’t pro­hib­ited out of com­pe­ti­tion. “Our infor­ma­tion sug­gests that many cases do not involve game or event-day con­sump­tion,” Nichols said. “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.” Rais­ing the thresh­old level to 150 nanograms per mil­li­liter means that an ath­lete would have to be a “pretty ded­i­cated cannabis con­sumer” to test pos­i­tive, accord­ing to Allen St. Pierre, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the National Orga­ni­za­tion for the Reform of Mar­i­juana Laws (NORML). Last year four ath­letes in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s pool tested pos­i­tive for tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol or THC, the pri­mary ingre­di­ent in mar­i­juana. That’s a small per­cent­age of the 2,776 in-competition tests the agency con­ducted. But one of the ath­letes, wrestler Stephany Lee, was kept off the Olympic team after test­ing pos­i­tive at the Olympic tri­als. USOC chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions offi­cer Patrick San­dusky declined to be inter­viewed for the story but released a state­ment that said the USOC is com­mit­ted to clean com­pe­ti­tion. “Addi­tion­ally, we respect WADA’s decision-making exper­tise and processes – they decide what is banned and what thresh­olds to apply and we work to ensure that U.S. ath­letes are appro­pri­ately edu­cated,” the state­ment read. Although mar­i­juana isn’t viewed to have obvi­ous performance-enhancing qual­i­ties, one of the rea­sons it’s on WADA’s list in the first place is because of the drug’s pos­si­ble effect dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion. For exam­ple, you wouldn’t want a bob­sled­der dri­ving down an icy track while impaired, said Dr. Matt Fedoruk, USADA’s sci­ence direc­tor. He adds that the the def­i­n­i­tion of per­for­mance enhanc­ing drugs shouldn’t be lim­ited to “mak­ing you stronger and faster and being able to jump higher. It’s how it affects some of the other para­me­ters that are really impor­tant like pain or con­fi­dence or some of the things that are a bit more dif­fi­cult to mea­sure or define ana­lyt­i­cally.” Ath­letes sanc­tioned by the USADA for mar­i­juana gen­er­ally receive sus­pen­sions rang­ing from three months to a year, depend­ing on the athlete’s case and if there was a past vio­la­tion and whether the drug was cou­pled with other banned sub­stances. A three-month sus­pen­sion can be deferred if an ath­lete com­pletes an edu­ca­tion pro­gram. The Inter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee orig­i­nally banned drugs like mar­i­juana and cocaine because of their ille­gal­ity, and because they vio­late the “spirit of sport.” WADA, cre­ated in 1999, fol­lows three cri­te­ria in estab­lish­ing its list of banned sub­stances: per­for­mance enhance­ment, dan­ger to an athlete’s health and vio­la­tion of the spirit of sport. Society’s atti­tudes toward mar­i­juana may have con­tributed to the tim­ing of WADA’s change, St. Pierre said. He points to Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton pass­ing leg­is­la­tion last year to legal­ize the drug for recre­ational use. “So they kind of ask the ques­tion … if we really don’t believe overtly that this is caus­ing peo­ple to game the sys­tem by devel­op­ing greater ath­letic skills, shouldn’t we really revisit this,” St. Pierre said. “It’s kind of hard to imag­ine that cannabis should be thrown into that mix­ture (of banned drugs) unless it is still viewed as a moral turpi­tude,” he added. “Soci­ety doesn’t seem to view it any­more as a moral turpi­tude.” Atti­tudes toward the drug vary around the world. “It’s a global pro­hib­ited list,” Fedoruk said. “One coun­try doesn’t have the last word per se on inclu­sion of sub­stances. Glob­ally there’s been some pres­sure from var­i­ous stake­hold­ers to address what is the appro­pri­ate thresh­old that you would catch use in com­pe­ti­tion only of cannabis. I think the change was to try to reflect that more accu­rately.” St. Pierre also raised the issue of the anti-inflammatory qual­i­ties asso­ci­ated with cannabi­noids and whether they could pro­vide some ath­letes an unfair advan­tage. Ath­letes such as for­mer Dal­las Cow­boys cen­ter Mark Step­noski have said that the drug has helped in recov­ery after stren­u­ous train­ing. St. Pierre says there’s more sci­en­tific research being done that sup­ports those claims. In the sports that fall under WADA juris­dic­tion, pot use still accounts for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of vio­la­tions. Accord­ing to USADA sta­tis­tics, of the 147 sanc­tions since 2008, 28 were from cannabis. Dr. Don Catlin, founder of the UCLA Olympic Ana­lytic Lab­o­ra­tory, said cannabis vio­la­tions account for a larger num­ber inter­na­tion­ally. In 2003, cannabi­noids accounted for 13.9% (378 of 2,716) of all adverse ana­lyt­i­cal find­ings (sam­ples that found the pres­ence of a banned sub­stance or method), accord­ing to WADA sta­tis­tics. Only ana­bolic agents such as testos­terone and stim­u­lants sur­passed cannabi­noids as banned sub­stances found in test­ing. In 2011, WADA reported 445 vio­la­tions for cannabis or 7.9% of 5,600 adverse test results. One of the founders of mod­ern day drug test­ing, Catlin said there was a long-running debate about mar­i­juana dur­ing the early years of test­ing for banned sub­stances. “Some peo­ple felt it wasn’t cor­rect to use a PED test to try and clean up the image of sport,” Catlin said. “In the end the IOC decided you should test for those kinds of drugs.” Pos­i­tive mar­i­juana tests can have a seri­ous impact on ath­letes lives. Last sum­mer Amer­i­can judo ath­lete Nick Delpopolo was sent home from the Lon­don Olympics after test­ing pos­i­tive. Delpopolo, who said the test was a result of eat­ing baked goods laced with mar­i­juana, declined com­ment for this story. Lee, the wrestler, was banned for one year for her pos­i­tive test last sum­mer. It was her sec­ond dop­ing vio­la­tion. In a radio inter­view after her sec­ond pos­i­tive, Lee said she used mar­i­juana for med­i­c­i­nal pur­poses, but said she had stopped smok­ing two weeks before com­pe­ti­tion. “It’s hard,” Lee said. “I’m home watch­ing the open­ing cer­e­monies on TV.” In 2003, a pos­i­tive test for cannabis drove down­hill moun­tain biker Gary House­man out of his sport entirely. A BMX prodigy, House­man became the first Amer­i­can in four years to win a stop on the UCI World Cup when he won in Grouse Moun­tain, British Colum­bia. But when he tested pos­i­tive for mar­i­juana — and faced a $2000 fine and a year sus­pen­sion — House­man retired at age 23. “I just decided to move on,” House­man said. While he can’t speak for WADA’s rea­son­ing for the change, Fedoruk says he thinks the goal is to focus on more “potent ergogenic drugs such as EPO, human growth hor­mone and testos­terone. “Enhanc­ing our capa­bil­i­ties in doing our job bet­ter to being able to detect those is always a goal of the anti-doping move­ment. To the extent that per­haps resources can be real­lo­cated because coun­tries maybe aren’t spend­ing as much on cannabis, I think it’s a poten­tially good thing.” Rebagliati, who retired from snow­board com­pe­ti­tion in 2000, is open about his feel­ings on the sub­ject. “Every­body knew I was a pot smoker after the Olympics,” he said. “I said I smoked and I still smoke but I never denied it.” Source: USA Today (US) Author: Fred­er­ick Dreier, Spe­cial To USA Today Pub­lished: July 17, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 USA Today, a divi­sion of Gan­nett Co. Inc. Con­tact: editor@​usatoday.​com Web­site: http://​www​.usato​day​.com/

7a735ec365sting1.jpg 150x112 Rules Change on Olympic Marijuana Testing

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Rules Change on Olympic Mar­i­juana Testing

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