Anecdotal evidence blocks medical marijuana use in college sports on a federal level

By Elena Stuart

After the passing of Prop 64 that legalized recreational marijuana statewide, use of medical marijuana is still illegal for California’s college athletes despite the plants potentially therapeutic properties.

“The subject matter is very delicate,” said recruiting and media communications representative of City College athletics Marcus Tolero.

He declined request to interview City College coaches, student-athletes and staff members on the topic.

City College biological psychology professor Karin Hu sympathized with the athletic department’s hesitation to speak on the matter.

“Engaging in activities with illegal drugs, and regardless of it’s medical properties marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and could jeopardize federal funding,” Hu said. “That means federal grants and student scholarships could be lost.”

Although the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy on marijuana is only implemented during championships, City College’s stand on the subject is clear.

“We do not condone the use of any form of illicit drugs. Including marijuana,” Tolero said.

The NCAA recognizes the use of some banned substances for legitimate medical purposes and allows exceptions to be made for student-athletes, however marijuana is categorized as a street drug and banned entirely on account of its psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

“The use of marijuana in any form is against NCAA […] policy on banned substances,” said head athletic trainer of sports medicine at City College Jesse J. Mazza.  

The NCAA considers marijuana use to be connected to anxiety, respiratory damage, short-term memory loss and a lowered interest in personal achievement.

“Medical marijuana in sports is another dimension entirely,” said City College Health Services Director Becky Perelli. “There are many variables and […] much more research needs to be done.”

Many widely accepted facts about the effects of marijuana on athletes are based on non-scientific observations.

Contributing editor of The Harvard Health Blog Wynne Armand, MD, indicated one of these beliefs to be cannabis decreasing motivation to exercise in a post on Aug. 19.

“On the other hand, there are also anecdotal reports that cannabis is used prior to athletic activity,” Armand continued. “In fact, the World Anti-Doping Agency includes cannabis as a prohibited substance in sport, partly because it is believed that it may enhance sports performance.”

Studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggest smoked marijuana may have negative health consequences for athletes.

Aside from THC and cannabidiol (CBD), marijuana leaves contain several less understood components making it difficult to standardize dosages of a smoked plant.

However the same studies prove cannabinoid medications administered through alternative routes lower the harmful effects on the lungs and the risk for addiction.

Additionally, the British Journal of Psychiatry’s study “Impact of cannabidiol on the acute memory and psychotomimetic effects of smoked cannabis” found CBD negates many if not all harmful effects of THC.

These findings applied to marijuana use in sports could mean ingesting the substance in edible form with a high ratio in CBD would not impair athletic performance while potentially treating various ailments such as pain, addiction, nausea, epilepsy, obesity, wasting disease, addiction, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions.  

Due to federal laws City College cannot allow or even discuss medical marijuana use in athletics.

“For us to provide a speculative viewpoint on legal or illegal marijuana being used by our student-athletes for medical purposes would go against what we currently prohibit,” Tolero said.

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