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Olympics Relax Regulation of Pot

Revised global anti-doping policy will make it harder to test for long-term pot use in athletes.

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Does pot enhance performance? Photo via

By Victoria Kim

05/20/13

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Good news for marijuana-loving Olympians: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has loosened its regulations of cannabis use in Olympic sports, prohibiting athletes from using the drug only in the days or hours leading up to a competition. At a recent meeting, WADA moved the threshold for a positive test for pot from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 ng/ml, which means athletes who use pot weeks or months before an event will be unlikely to test positive. "We wanted to focus on the athletes that abuse the substance in competition," says Julie Masse, WADA's director of communications. "This should exclude cases where marijuana is not used in competition." The new threshold will affect over 600 sports organizations around the world, including the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, and national professional leagues, which have adopted the World Anti-Doping Code. Under the former threshold, an athlete who used marijuana a month before competition was likely to be detected, as well as those who were exposed to second-hand pot smoke weeks before an event. And testing positive can get an athlete banned from the competition for up to two years.

So why is marijuana even considered a performance-enhancing drug? Richard Pound, who first headed WADA, says the US lobbied for the drug's ban in athletics, even though many researchers conclude it doesn't technically enhance athletic performance. "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," David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, has claimed. "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." Many members of WADA reportedly share his reservations about pot giving players a competitive edge. College athletics, on the other hand, have gone in the reverse direction: earlier this year, the NCAA lowered the threshold for marijuana use from 15 to 5, with the aim of detecting in-competition as well as out-of-competition use.

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