Recent debate and cases involving elite athletes raised the question whether or not Cannabis sativa (cannabis) should be considered doping in sports. Results from a 2010 report in the United States (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,2011) showed that cannabis is the most used illicit drug, with 17.4 million users smoking cannabis and 6.9 million users smoking cannabis on a daily or near daily basis. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) included cannabis in its Prohibited List in 2004, claiming that cannabis may improve performance in some sports and is an illegal drug in most countries (Huestis et al., 2011); however, the inclusion of a substance in the Code (World Anti-Doping Agency, 2009) is complex, requiring intense debate among delegates and the fulfillment of specific criteria. For instance, Section 4 of the Code establishes that a substance be considered for inclusion in the Prohibited List if it is a masking agent or meets two of the three following criteria: (i) potential to enhance performance in sports – smoked cannabis affects cognition and performance, causes memory loss, executive function, and motor impairment, among other undesirable effect (Saugy et al., 2006). Cannabis smoking can be helpful for some activities such as extreme sports, as it improves muscle relaxation, reduces anxiety, and extincts fear memories (e.g., negative experiences) leading to enhanced performance. It is also worthwhile to note that cannabis smoking improves sleep time and recovery, which may favor performance when an athlete is facing multiple competitions in a short period of time. In light of these positive effects, one can assume cannabis is a doping substance that relaxes the mind and improves recovery (Huestis et al., 2011); (ii) potential or actual health risk – cannabis’ cognitive effects in chronic users are still unclear, but it may downregulate CB1 receptors, affect executive functions, and cause motor impairment, reversed only after weeks of abstinence (Hirvonen et al., 2012).
Read full study here