Yes, Marijuana Can Be a Performance Enhancing Drug

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COMMENTARY | The winds of change are upon us-and they have the thick, sweet smell of lit marijuana.

 Along with efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana in several states, there has also been a push to scrap it from the list of banned substances in the sport of boxing. 

Currently, tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances and its use has been penalized just as harshly as any of the other chemical cheats.

 The steep fine and suspension of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for testing positive for the substance after his September 15 unanimous decision loss to Sergio Martinez created a debate as to whether pot use should be treated with the same heavy hand as some of the other enhancements on WADA's list. 

Chavez Jr., the son of Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez, was suspended nine months for his positive test and fined $900,000-- almost a third of his fight purse.

"In the almost fifty years I've been in boxing, this was the stupidest decision I've ever seen an athletic commission come down with," Chavez promoter Bob Arum said at the time the punishment was handed down. "The commission didn't know what it was doing...Why should they be imposing any kind of fine on somebody...when it's legal in so many states? I mean, let's go into this century...Have you smoked it? You're [expletive] right you smoke it! Do I smoke it? You're damn right I smoke it!"

The buzz and the outrage soon spread to the mainstream, where the Grateful Dead-loving, hemp shirt-wearing crew of pro-weed activists began crying foul over the "draconian" punishment dealt to Chavez.

 The fact of the matter, though, was that this wasn't Chavez's first brush with a banned substance and the sanction, approved via 3-2 vote by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), was likely made more severe because the fighter was a repeat offender. 

In 2009, Chavez tested positive for the banned diuretic and masking agent, Furosemide following his unanimous decision victory over Troy Rowland. Chavez would eventually receive a seven month suspension-the shortest suspension ever handed down by the NSAC for a failed drug test-and fined $10,000.

 In this most recent case, Chavez Jr. claimed that the positive test result was brought about by a cannabis oil treatment used to combat insomnia and anxiety prior to the Martinez fight. In doing this, he actually made the case against himself.

 Performance enhancers aren't just those substances which allow an athlete to jump higher, run faster, or punch harder. They can also be substances which allow one to train longer, deal better with pain, and/or artificially augment the training experience. A performance enhancing drug need not even be illegal. Basically, anything on the list of banned substances that artificially augments any part of the fight process is a no-no. 

Chavez would've been better off had he admitted to smoking a joint while watching Pineapple Express and munching on Funyuns. By his own admission, though, the second generation star admitted to having used a banned substance to positively affect his training and fight preparation. In this specific case, the fine and suspension were warranted.

 Recently, WADA decided to increase the tolerance of tetrahydrocannabinol in their testing from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 150 nanograms, a move made to better distinguish between recreational use and designed cheating. It's an important move in an increasingly marijuana-friendly world where athletes have and will come into contact with the substance.

The move by WADA also acknowledges the fact that marijuana can be used as a performance enhancing drug and its use still needs to be closely monitored by testing agencies.


Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.

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