Expulsion of Olympic Athlete for Marijuana Raises Questions

An American Olympic judo contender, Nick Delpopolo, was expelled from the London 2012 Olympic Games Monday after he tested positive for marijuana, and that has some experts raising questions about whether it makes sense to include marijuana on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances.

Judo match, 2012 Olympics, London (Martin Duggan via Flickr and Wikimedia)
Delpopolo said he had inadvertently consumed marijuana in a food item he did not know contained it.

Concerns about athletes "cheating" by using performance enhancing drugs is one thing, but the use of recreational drugs that do not enhance -- and could well detract from -- competitive performance is another. Recreational drugs are banned not because they might provide an athlete with an unfair advantage, but because their use by athletes can cause public relations problems for organized sports, which like to tout athletes as role models for youth.

But some experts told Reuters Monday that sports' PR concerns were no reason to ban athletes for using marijuana. They also suggested the time, expense, and effort of drug testing athletes might be better spent going after real cheats who do blood doping with EPO or use anabolic steroids to increase muscle growth and testosterone levels.

"There's no evidence cannabis is ever performance enhancing in sport, and since its use is legal in a number of countries, there's no reason for it to be banned by WADA," said David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. "I can't think of any sport in which it would be an advantage. And it seems ludicrous that someone could quite legally smoke cannabis in Amsterdam in the morning and then come over to London in the afternoon and be banned from competing."

But marijuana is banned by WADA, and that means athletes caught using it during a competition face a two-year ban. Still, unlike performance enhancing drugs, WADA does not punish athletes who test positive for pot outside of competitions. That stance has led some scientists to suggest that WADA's reason for banning marijuana is political, not scientific.

"The problem is the elite athletes should be seen as role models for young kids, and so they ban cannabis because they don't want to have the image of gold medalists smoking joints," said one British-based sports scientist who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

[Ed: If officials don't link images of athletes smoking marijuana, they might have a poor strategy -- no one knew Delpolo used it, before he was sanctioned, but now everyone does.]

"It's hard to imagine how smoking a joint or eating marijuana brownies is going to help somebody in judo," said Michael Joyner, a member of the Physiological Society and a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in the United States. "My advice to WADA is that they should focus on drugs that are clearly performance enhancing in the sports where they are clearly performance enhancing."

According to WADA, substance merit inclusion on its banned substances list if they meet two of these three criteria: they are proven to be performance enhancing, they are dangerous to the health of athletes, or they are contrary to the spirit of sport. There is little or no evidence that marijuana can enhance sporting performance, while there is evidence it could have a negative impact. It can slow reaction times, cause coordination problems, and reduce hand-eye coordination, none of which is going to increase an athlete's chances of victory.

While marijuana is not harm free, there is little evidence it is dangerous to the health of athletes. Nor is it clear why marijuana use would be "contrary to the spirit of sport."

WADA isn't keen to clarify. It refused to comment Monday on a Reuters query about why marijuana is banned.

London
United Kingdom
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Drug hypocrisy

But WADA has no problem with athletes drinking psychosis inducing alcohol.

Michael Phelps was forced say

Michael Phelps was forced say he was wrong for smoking cannabis in 2009. What a wonderful world we live in when the people in power force people to confirm to their idiotic prohibitionist ideas. Phelps is the greatest Olympian that ever lived and he likes to get high but is forced to say he made a mistake. The only mistake is that USA politicians are forcing people worldwide to hide their use of cannabis or their countries will be crippled by the modern Nazi USA government(I am calling it this because it is dictating on what every country has to do) using money sanctions or worse. Canada was going to legalize cannabis until it was going to face severe monetary sanctions. A tiny amount of people in power control the world and are trying to demonize good ordinary citizens, shame on their despotic actions.

Canada  and monetary links

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2237758.stm

Monetary threat stops full legalization in Spain

http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2011/dec/13/basque_country_legalize_regulate

Phelps link

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/sports/othersports/06phelps.html

Simple

The reason is simple, easy, and clear. The substance is illegal so no athlete will have it in their system. The same reason American workers loose their employment year after year. 

"Their system"....   Think

"Their system"....   Think about that.  Even if it harms no one, we don't have the freedom to do with our own body what we wish.   That's just sad.

not so simple

not true.....most jobs...at least sround here.....offer some sort of rehab class you can attend and keep your job. they do not tell everyone you work with you failed the test and dont make an ass of you for doing something on your own time. if it was legalized they would not lose production. just a thought.

And i totally agree with the fact that this dude should stand tall and be a man about it. partake and enjoy....dont hide it and say it was an accident. if mr phelps woulda done it i bet we would be in a different place rite now. we need people to stand and be proud of themselves and their choices. dont cower away and repeat some b.s. I made a mistake crap. be a man and tell them the truth.

Nick Delpopolo = the new

Nick Delpopolo = the new Michael Phelps.  I hope the guy will stand up and be proud of his choices.  Don't apologize for the cameras, tell them you didn't do anything wrong.

i've smoked mj on a daily

i've smoked mj on a daily basis for years due to it's therapeutic effect on depression and insomnia. i've also perceived at times that it can enhance performance in certain areas, including some sports. billiards was a good example for me. i found that while moderately high, i could focus better, envision better on how striking the cue ball in different locations, applying different 'english' to the ball, gave me better results. as any more than casual player knows, the key to successful billiards play involves controlling the cue ball to set up future shots. i also experienced, rightly or wrongly, that a moderate high can be helpful at table tennis or ping pong. whether true or not, it certainly can make the game more fun. but i can certainly appreciate that in more intense physical sports, mj would not enhance performance, particular with violent sports.

Since ancient Greece and the real Olympics

That's how long athletes have been taking performance enhancing drugs.If you tried to tell an ancient Greek athlete he shouldn't eat those ram balls before a competition he would wonder what was wrong with you.These drugs are obviously very effective and if you just can't win without them then do something else.Or form another games for pussies.We have all seen over and over what a witch hunt this has been.With no evidence that it has hurt anyone.It is like any decision that it takes to be the very best at something.The training that some go through is also very harmful to the body.No one is trying to control the time people train.This is a group of athletes that don't have the all out desire to win trying to make everyone commit to their regimen.Who is the fascist?It has now come down to who has the best doctors and who has the regimen figured out.That some still are banned just proves that the others have better medical help or have new and untraceable drugs.Who decided that the original Olympians were a bunch of dirty dopers and that we were so much better than they were?This is just more drug war nonsense and should be held up to the ridicule it so justly deserves.Some are born with high levels of performance enhancers and others need supplements.Does that make them the freaks?Or are the women who are born with a moustache and huge biceps the freaks?Or are we all just people who will do any and everything to get to that level that we want to achieve?Who has the wisdom to say they know what's best and everyone else is wrong?

Expect the southern states of

Expect the southern states of the bible belt to be the last ones to legalize for recreational use. Mary J.

Test, just a test

Hello. And Bye.

lately

IMHO, this is not so much about the marijuana as it is about the money and property that will zealously be confiscated. How many coke or heroin busts have there been lately? I haven't heard of any where I live. daniela

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