Point-Counterpoint: Does cannabis have a place in sports?

The Journal’s sports editors trade takes on whether weed should be a legal substance for athletes

University athletes are currently prohibited from smoking marijuana during competitive seasons.
University athletes are currently prohibited from smoking marijuana during competitive seasons.
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Maggie Gowland, Assistant Sports Editor 

NO

Varsity athletes are used to saying no. 

Save for players enjoying their offseason, there are plenty of athletes who refrain from partaking in the drinking culture at Queen’s. 

There’s no time for a hangover when you’re getting up at 6 a.m. for practice, and there’s no time for a party when you need to consume 1,500 calories after an evening workout. As well, many athletes follow restrictive diets to best fuel their bodies to enhance athletic performance.

Being an athlete is partially about making sacrifices—weed shouldn’t be an exception.

The legalization of marijuana doesn’t neccesitate that the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) permit its presence in university sport. It adheres to international anti-doping standards, and cannabis remains on its prohibited list.

Although they recognize that marijuana could be used for therapeutic purposes, athletes are encouraged to find non-prohibited alternatives  before having medical professionals write them exemptions.

In professional North American sports leagues, marijuana will continue to remain prohibited, too.

Cannabis is one of the eight drugs banned under the National Football League’s (NFL) substance abuse policy, despite being legal in 25 U.S. states for medicinal purposes. The NFL currently has no Canadian teams.

Though for many NFL players, allowing marijuana would reduce opioid use, the adverse effects of the drug aren’t fully understood.

The National Hockey League (NHL), with seven Canadian teams, doesn’t ban cannabis as a performance enhancing drug, but it does ban it under the substance abuse and behavioural health program. Sportsnet calls NHL’s stance on cannabis “the most lenient of North America’s major professional sport’s leagues.”

Connor McDavid, the captain of the Edmonton Oilers, said of the health benefits of marijuana: “You’d be stupid not to at least look into it.” 

However, it’s important to remember that marijuana is a gateway drug. 

While cannabis can be used to cope with mental illness, it can also be a dangerous crutch for it. Weed can alleviate anxiety, but frequently invites more severe anxiety in its wake

Many NHL players have come forward to talk about how they struggled with mental illness, addiction, and drug abuse, justifying marijuana’s categorization under behavioural health. 

As we watch the legalization of marijuana unfold across Canada, it’ll be interesting to see how professional sports leagues react. But until they prove weed doesn’t affect an athlete’s performance or threaten their mental health, there’s no need for the CCES to permit U Sports athletes to smoke a post-game joint.

Really, athletes—save it for the offseason. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Scace, Sports Editor

YES

There’s an understandable stigma surrounding pot. A banned substance list, however, doesn’t adhere to stigmas. Instead, it considers what’s a performance-enhancing drug and what’s safe for athletes. 

It aims to protect the integrity of the sport, but also looks after its employees.

Keeping cannabis on the banned substance list doesn’t achieve the latter—and arguably not the former, either.

Normative practices for most leagues, which includes the NFL and NBA, follow stringent bans on marijuana with hefty fines and, after multiple offences, game suspensions. As a consequence, opioid-based painkillers are the go-to for painkilling treatment because team doctors can prescribe them.

Of the painkillers available and frequently used by athletes, the most notable are ibuprofen, Vicodin, and sometimes fentanyl—all three of which are highly addictive. While the immediate impact is crucial for athletes in the moment, the long-term effects of these prescription medications can rip apart an athlete’s life, especially in retirement.

In 2011, a study by Washington University discovered 52 per cent of retired football players used painkillers during their careers, and over 70 per cent abused those drugs. A long list of famous athletes have had to undergo rehab, and a handful of others weren’t even lucky enough to make it there.

A number of athletes, current and former, have been widely outspoken about cannabis’ use as a remedy since its legalization in Canada a few weeks ago. A number of those who tout it have first-hand knowledge of its benefits, but also endured the gut-wrenching effects of addiction.

Removing cannabis from the banned substance list doesn’t mean athletes are hitting joints on the sidelines—it’s an off-hours practice to help mitigate the pain of fractured ribs and broken noses. It also comes in different forms, such as cannabidiol, a pain cream with no psychoactive ingredients. 

Also, a number of athlete users rarely smoke it. Some take gummies before bed to dull their persistent headaches.

Cannabis isn’t the perfect solution, but it’s one we shouldn’t run away from. In doing so, we distance ourselves from a bigger conversation of long-term athlete safety. 

Former NHL goalie Glenn Healy said it best: “It’s our players, it’s our life, it’s our families. It’s kids, it’s wives.”

Athletes sacrifice a lot for their sport, but they shouldn’t have to put their future on the line for it. And keeping marijuana on the banned substance list doesn’t make their futures brighter—in fact, it may dim them.

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