Cannabis and Rugby: Not So Fast With The Red Card!
With the Rugby World Cup about to get underway, we ask the question: is cannabis a performance-enhancing drug? This has become a debating point in New Zealand rugby circles after a player was banned for having THC in his system.
28 August 2023 at 13:00:00
Cannabis is a growing drug in New Zealand rugby ranks – and a former All Black believes it should be embraced instead of being shunned.
Earlier this month Hurricanes forward Isaia Walker-Leawere was banned from sport for a month after testing positive for THC – the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis.
That's despite Drug Free Sport New Zealand admitting cannabis is not performance-enhancing and that they're campaigning against its prohibited status in sport.
Former All Black and Chiefs great Liam Messam agrees with them and wants to be the face of change for player welfare, pushing for the therapeutic component of cannabis – cannabidiol, or CBD – to be an acceptable medical aid.
"I tried it and absolutely loved it straight away,” Messam told 1News.
“Reduced inflammation in the body, gave me the best sleeps that I've had – just by taking CBD.
“It doesn't cure the problem but helps me live a better life.”
Its use by rugby players has risen since 2018 when it was removed as a banned substance by the world anti-doping authority.
But cannabis itself is still banned and while DFSNZ is fighting that, CEO Nick Paterson says they have concerns about contamination in prescription-only CBD.
"CBD doesn't have the psychoactive piece to it and is used medicinally properly to cope with pain relief and stress disorders,” Paterson said.
“Our worry is the good piece, CBD, you need to be clear as an athlete that it doesn't have any residual THC in it and as an athlete how do you know that?"
Instead, athletes currently turn to painkillers ranging from anti-inflammatories to opioids.
Among those is tramadol, which from next January will be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency in competition with concerns over its addictive potential.
Messam said he understands that worry.
“I had a mate here at the Chiefs – they had to take Voltaren just to be able to play, took too many one night and then his wife found him collapsed over the toilet and had ulcers in his stomach,” he said.
“When you're a young footy player, you'll do whatever it takes to get out on the field."
Former Blues and Scotland player Grayson Hart knows that all too well with a knee injury forcing him to take up to eight pain killers a day for three years while playing.
It led him to create the first WADA compliant CBD product, certified by the BSCG [The Banned Substances Control Group].
"There are so many players hugely reliant on pain killers and it's so unhealthy,” Hart said.
“I see CBD as a way to show the world this narrative that we have against cannabis isn't all that it's portrayed to be.”
“There's a lot of interest in CBD in rugby, they're just too scared to take it,” Messam added.
But with organisations like the NBA and UFC now allowing all cannabis, CBD could soon be a game changer in sport.
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