Nov 10

Not With a Bang, But With a Bong

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I usually try refrain from interjecting political opinion into monthly Newsletters. However, I want to address the issue of cannabis from the perspective of health educator, teacher, and coach because athletes can/could be affected and need to be educated on the potential WADA implications and side effects of usage.

Canadians are now allowed to consume cannabis, cannabis oil, and grow up to four plants at home, and pot-connected companies are feeling the high. In the past two months shares in Tilray, which grows medical marijuana, have risen in value from C$25 ($19) to nearly C$130. But inadequate legal supply means the black market will not vanish just yet. (x)

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s mother Margaret, well known for her pot use during the 1970’s, stated in a mental health conference in 2007 that her battle with mental illness involved completely giving up marijuana, which she started smoking at a young age! How about second hand smoke affecting her three sons, given that medical researchers point out that second hand effects are more severe than cigarette smoke.

The Health Irony

Medical professionals and the Canadian government have spent 40 years trying to reduce cigarette consumption with some obvious success. Now, it appears the government is encouraging smoking again even though recent studies show that cannabis is even more harmful to young brains and lungs than ordinary cigarettes.

Nationally, about 4.2 million (14%) of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported some use of cannabis products for medical or non-medical purposes in the previous three months. More than half (57%) of the users indicated that they used some form of cannabis daily or weekly (Statistics Canada, 2018).

Cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical that causes the mental and physical effects known as feeling “high.” When cannabis is smoked or vaporized, the effects begin right away and last for at least six hours. The effects of edible cannabis products may begin between 30 minutes and two hours after taking them, and can last 12 hours or longer (Government of Canada, n.d.). Not all of the physical, mental and emotional effects of cannabis use are known, but evidence suggests there are both short- and long-term health risks associated with regular use. In particular, people aged 25 and under are more likely to experience harms from cannabis because their brains are still developing. The earlier in life cannabis use begins, the more harm it can do (Government of Canada, 2018a).

Implications of Legalization of Cannabis for Canadian Athletes

Traveling from Canada

It is illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border. Athletes can be subject to criminal charges if they try to travel to other countries with any amount of cannabis in their possession. This applies to all countries, whether cannabis is legal there or not.

Cannabis is still illegal in most countries. If they try to travel internationally with any amount of cannabis in their possession, they could be subject to serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad. They could also be denied entry at their destination country if they have previously used cannabis or any substance prohibited by local laws. As a traveller, it is their responsibility to be informed about the laws of the country they intend to visit(x). This includes the legal status of cannabis use and possession in any country they may travel to.

Travelling within Canada with Cannabis

When travelling within Canada, it is athletes’ responsibility to learn the law of the province or territory going to. If using cannabis, follow the laws in that jurisdiction. We hope that our athletes remain aware of the usage and the consequences(x).


Implication for All Athletes World Wide

WADA amended its rules on cannabis, raising the threshold for a positive test from 15 nanograms (ng) per milliliter to 150 ng/ml. Ben Nichols, a spokesperson for WADA, said the raising of the threshold is meant to catch only athletes who smoke during the period of a competition. The drug isn’t prohibited out of competition. 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. He adds that 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.

“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. 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 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.

Positive marijuana tests can have a serious impact on athletes lives. 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. It was her second doping violation. In a radio interview, Lee said she used marijuana for medicinal purposes, but said she had stopped smoking two weeks before competition.

Health Canada Warnings

  • Cannabis smoke is harmful. Harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke are also found in cannabis smoke.
  • Cannabis can be addictive – 1 in 11 people who use cannabis will become addicted.
  • Cannabis can be addictive. Up to 1 in 2 people, who use cannabis daily will become addicted.
  • Regular use of cannabis and higher content of THC can increase the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia. Young people are especially at risk.
  • Regular use of cannabis can increase the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia. Higher THC content can lower the age of onset of schizophrenia.
  • Adolescents are at greater risk of harm from cannabis. Early and regular use increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia.
  • Adolescents are at greater risk of harm from cannabis. Using cannabis as a teenager can increase the risk of becoming addictive.
  • Adolescents are at greater risk from cannabis, as 1 in 6 people who start using the drug in adolescence will become addicted.
  • Up to half of people who use cannabis on a daily basis have work- social or health problems.
  • Cannabis affects breastfeeding as substances found in cannabis are also found in the breast milk of mothers.
  • Using cannabis while pregnant may harm the baby and result in low birth weight – may affect the development of the brain

Short-term use of cannabis (Government of Canada, 2018b):

  • Makes it more difficult to learn and remember things- After using cannabis, a person may have problems paying attention, remembering or learning new things, and making decisions. This has implications for training and competition, as well as success at school or on the job.
  • Affects mood and feelings- Cannabis can make a person feel anxious, panicked, sad, and fearful. Emotional swings and lack of self-regulation can strain relationships with teammates, coaches and support staff – relationships that are critical to success.
  • Impairs performance- Cannabis can slow reaction times, lower one’s ability to pay attention, and decrease coordination, thereby impacting athletic performance. This is an issue off the field too – using cannabis and driving, for example, can result in car accidents, serious injuries or death (driving while high is illegal – for information on drug-impaired driving
  • Affects mental health- Cannabis can trigger psychotic episodes, experienced as not knowing what is real, experiencing paranoia, having disorganized thoughts, and, in some cases, hallucinating.

Regular long-term use of cannabis – daily or almost daily, for several months or years (Government of Canada, 2018b):

  • Damages the lungs- Cannabis smoke contains many of the same harmful substances as tobacco smoke. Like smoking cigarettes, smoking cannabis can damage the lungs and results in coughing, wheezing and other breathing complications.
  • Affects mental health- Using cannabis regularly and continuously over time can cause users to experience anxiety, depression, psychosis and schizophrenia. Studies show that stopping or reducing cannabis use can improve these symptoms.
  • Results in physical dependence or addiction- It is estimated that one out of 11 cannabis users will become addicted to cannabis in their lifetime. The rate increases to 16% for those who start using cannabis during adolescence and goes up to 50% for people who smoke cannabis daily. Cannabis addiction may have a major negative impact on everyday life, and affect school, work, relationships with family and friends, sport, and other extracurricular activities
  • Marijuana also affects brain development- When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Researchers are still studying how long marijuana’s effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.
  • For example, a study from New Zealand conducted in part by researchers at Duke University showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities didn’t fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana, as adults didn’t show notable IQ declines.

Additional Health Warnings by Medical Experts

Marijuana over-activates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that people feel. Other effects include, according to other research studies:

  • Altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Changes in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory
  • Hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • Delusions (when taken in high doses)
  • Psychosis (when taken in high doses)

Be Aware of Existing Myths

Driving high is more safe than driving drunk

Fact: Even a small amount of cannabis will impair driving performance since it affects the cognitive abilities that one needs to drive safely, alertness, concentration, reaction time, ability to judge distances, perception, coordination, and motor skills.

You drive better when you’re high-

Fact: Tests have shown that drivers, who are high are keenly aware they’re impaired, so they develop compensatory strategies such as driving slower or increasing their following distance. Despite this fact, US studies show that drug-impaired driving fatalities have actually increased

Younger adults are more educated about how cannabis affects driving

Fact: According to a recent CAA survey nearly one in three Canadians, aged 18-34, believe they can drive better when high.

There’s No Roadside Test

Fact: Two saliva-screening tests have been submitted for approval, which will take some time. Police can still conduct the Standard Field Sobriety Test, which detects drug impairment and probably cause for arrest. If arrested, a trained Drug Recognition expert will perform further testing at the police station.

Cannabis affects everyone the same way

Fact: The active ingredient THC affects everyone differently and in different ways. One person may become impaired after one or two puffs, while another could be unaffected after consuming the same amount. There is no benchmark amount that’s safe for all. Arrange for a drive home instead!

The Government hasn’t set penalties for Cannabis impairment

Fact: Federal and Provincial penalties are enshrined in law. Drug-impaired drivers charge under Alberta laws can expect to have their drivers licence suspended and vehicle seized, and required to attend a remedial education course. Drivers can also be charged under the Criminal Code of Canada, which means hefty fines and possible imprisonment depending on the driver’s record of prior convictions and the amount of THC and alcohol in the blood.

There are exemptions for people who use prescription Cannabis

Fact: If Cannabis is used for medical purpose, the person can’t legally drive while drug-impaired.

Coaching Responsibility

Our number one responsibility is the safety of athletes and safety of the sporting environment (according to NCCP Ethics), and we are accountable for their health and welfare. The use of cannabis for older teen athletes, swimmers in my case, is putting me in a difficult situation on a daily basis as monitoring the mental state of athletes and potential users is ‘flung’ upon me. Over 50 years of coaching experience I have seen it all! Let me remind you that one of the best US Olympic swimmers was caught drunk driving in Baltimore and using pot in Las Vegas while most recently another one checked himself into rehab due to years of alcohol abuse. My question: Where were the coaches for these athletes? What is my coaching responsibility now? What about any future Olympians I train to make sure they train cannabis free? How do I monitor that?

Supporting Positive Decision Making

We all have a role to play to ensure our athletes, at all levels, make informed decisions about cannabis use. Foremost, we need to educate athletes and present the consequences related to health, cognitive function, and social issues.

  • Be informed. Understand the new cannabis legislation and the rules of the CADP. Ensure athletes understand the risks for themselves and their teammates, and to their future sport participation. Resources from the CCES and Health Canada are provided below.
  • Talk about it. Athletes are encouraged to have discussions with teammates, coaches, and sport administrators about cannabis legalization and how it will affect them. Sport organizations and coaches are encouraged to proactively communicate information about cannabis in sport with their membership.
  • Ask for help. If you or someone you know is experiencing negative health impacts or is misusing cannabis, seek help. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and addiction has resources to help athletes with cannabis problems.




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