Can Olympians Smoke Weed? Drug Testing Rules Go Easy On Athletes Who Use Marijuana

According to some very relaxed marijuana testing rules, Olympic athletes are allowed to smoke weed without being disqualified. While cannabis is still officially banned during the games, Olympians can get away with smoking the substance as long it is not done while competing.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) changed the rules in May, 2013, which makes it harder for an Olympian to test positive for marijuana and be suspended from the games. The modification changes the amount of THC, the chemical in the cannabis plant responsible for the infamous mind-altering effects, allowable in an athlete’s blood. Prior to the change, testing positive required about 150 nanograms per milliliter. Under the new guidelines that amount has been increased to nearly 1,500 nanograms.

WADA changes rules for THC level in an Olympian's blood. Current drug testing rules make it more acceptable for Olympians to smoke weed. [Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images]Representing the World Anti-Doping Agency, Ben Nichols explained the change.

“Our information suggests that many cases do not involve game or event-day consumption. The new threshold level is an attempt to ensure that in-competition use is detected and not use during the days and weeks before competition.”

Essentially, the rule change means Olympians who have small amounts of THC in their blood won’t be punished. Therefore, when they are not competing, they can smoke weed without suffering repercussions later on. They will still get in trouble if testing reveals a high enough THC level that suggests they got high just before or during an event.

Prior to the rule change, even if an Olympian smoked weed for recreational purposes days before a competitive event, there was a high chance for a positive result. During the London games in 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency conducted tests and four athletes tested positive for THC.

While that may not be very many when compared to the total number of Olympians, one American wrestler, Stephany Lee, was prevented from competing. After testing positive, Lee was not allowed to compete for one year. Another American athlete was told to go back home.

Swimmer Michael Phelps was photographed while taking a hit off a bong back in 2009 and was subsequently suspended from competition for three months. While he did get to keep his gold medals, one of his sponsors, Kellogg’s, decided to drop their contract with him.

Michael Phelps smoked weed in 2009 and got suspended. Olympian gold medalist Michael Phelps got into trouble for smoking weed in 2009. [Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images]In 1998, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Yet, shortly thereafter, he tested positive for marijuana and his medal was taken from him.

After discovering marijuana was not on the banned list, it was added by the WADA in 1999. The Olympics follows the WADA rules, so Olympians were told not to smoke weed or they would run the risk of being suspended or banned from competing.

While the WADA rules for weed smoking by Olympians may have been relaxed, it doesn’t necessarily make it acceptable. Most believe being high while competing creates a dangerous situation, such as participating in a bobsledding event. At the same time, others say if violates the “spirit of the sport” to be under the influence during the games.

Many athletes welcome the WADA rule change. They say smoking weed actually helps them train, while also helping to reduce pain more effectively than prescription drugs.

While many athletes may use the drug for either medicinal or recreational purposes, the Olympians competing right now in Rio need to take precaution if they decide to smoke weed after competing. Despite efforts to decriminalize the substance, Brazil considers the drug illegal and athletes could be arrested if caught.

While there is still much controversy surrounding cannabis use, the new WADA rules give Olympians a little leeway when it comes to smoking weed in their private life. Even though they may not be suspended or banned from competing, Olympians will still need to be careful when they decide to take a puff.

[Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images]