“The reason it’s (marijuana) on the banned list is because it violates the spirit of sport,” says Khalid Galant, chief executive of the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport. Photo: Marilyn Bernard/African News Agency/ANA

CAPE TOWN – Dagga may now be legal for private use in South Africa, but athletes should be careful with it if they aim to go faster, higher and stronger (the Olympic motto) in sport.

The South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids) issued a notice on their Twitter account on Monday, warning sportsmen and women that marijuana is still on the prohibited substances list of the World Anti-Doping Code (Wada).

“IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR ALL ATHLETES: Although Cannabis/Marijuana has been legalized for personal use in SA, it REMAINS a prohibited substance as per the World Anti-Doping Code & are still on the 2018 list of Prohibited Substances!” read the tweet.

Saids chief executive Khalid Galant told IOL Sport on Monday that the decision to post the notice was due to a few enquiries from athletes.

“We tweeted about it because we got some calls – I don’t know whether people were excited or nervous about the legalisation of marijuana for personalised use!” Galant said.

“Marijuana has been decriminalised in many other countries for many years, such as USA, Canada, and The Netherlands, but it has no bearing on sport.

“It is still banned in sport, but about three years ago, the concentration for a marijuana positive test was increased. What that means is that you have to consume a lot more marijuana to elicit a positive test, because there is a minimum threshold level.

“People were obviously curious in South Africa – what does that mean? One of the callers asked ‘Can I smoke marijuana on a Wednesday and be in competition on the Saturday?’

“So, it is still banned in sport. There has always been a concentration threshold, which means if you test positive above this limit, it will be declared a doping positive.

“The reasons for increasing the limit were that people were claiming second-hand inhalation, and those types of stuff. So the competition limit was increased to take out that factor. The limit is in nanograms, it was increased from 15ng/mL to 150ng/mL.”

But how many joints could that threshold be equal to? Galant said it wasn’t as easy as saying it was “equivalent to three joints or whatever”.

“Everyone’s body is different. If you smoke half a joint, it may have a hallucinogenic effect – in terms of getting stoned – someone else may have to smoke two joints (for the same effect). So, the threshold limit actually means nothing,” he said.

“For athletes, marijuana is banned in sport. A substance is banned in sport if it meets one of three criteria – harm to the athlete, artificially enhancing performance, and being against the spirit of sport and competition.

“Now, some people are going to debate that ‘Marijuana is not performance-enhancing’, but for which sport, because marijuana is also known to have an analgesic, numbing effect. But it’s against the spirit of sport. Participation in sport is for health, wellness.

“If it’s on the banned list, you get charged. The reason it’s (marijuana) on the banned list is because it violates the spirit of sport.”

When asked if an athlete would not be banned if they had used marijuana and their test was below the threshold, Galant said: “Yes. If your sample comes back with marijuana below the threshold level, the laboratory doesn’t report it to us.

“But how are you going to determine (beforehand) if you are below the threshold?

“A lot of athletes have used, as a defence, that ‘We smoked two weeks ago’. But that’s kind of impossible with this new threshold, where they might say ‘I was at a party and everyone was smoking there, so that’s second-hand inhalation’. That’s also impossible.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has retained marijuana on the banned substances list for 2019. Photo: Reuters

Galant said that athletes could apply for a therapeutic-use exemption for medical marijuana, but that they would “have to jump through quite a bunch of hoops to satisfy criteria”, and that it would be difficult to get an exemption because of inconclusive scientific evidence.

Cannabis oil, though, was not in the same boat as marijuana. “Cannabis oil doesn’t have THC (a chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol) in it. So if you use a drop, you are not going to get stoned. You are not going to test positive because it doesn’t have THC in it,” Galant said.

“If you eat brownies, and there’s marijuana in it, you will test positive because marijuana has THC in it. You can’t say ‘I ate a brownie and didn’t smoke a joint’.”

 

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