BlogStumped by legalisation: cannabis in cricket

Stumped by legalisation: cannabis in cricket

7 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Stumped by legalisation: cannabis in cricket
With the start of the second test series for the 2023 Ashes taking place this week, we thought we’d have a look into cannabis in the field of cricket and discuss a dilemma many athletes may face: choosing between their profession, and their prescription. 

Contents

As crowds gather to watch the famous faces that represent England and Australia take to the pitch at Lord’s in London, we’ll navigate the sticky wickets that represent their rights as residents, and the restrictions they face as athletes, when it comes to cannabis-based treatments. 

Medicinal cannabis has been a legally available treatment option for patients with specific health conditions in Australia and England as of 2016 and 2018 respectively, and is commonly prescribed to treat pain or inflammatory issues. 

Both of these conditions are regularly faced by cricket players of both professional and amateur levels around the world. However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD), and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) have all prohibited the use and consumption of cannabinoids during competition, with one exception: CBD. 

Anti-doping regulations in cricket

In 2006 The International Cricket Council imposed an anti-doping code that is compliant with the regulations outlined by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This prohibits international cricketers from consuming substances that have the potential to enhance the performance of athletes, pose a risk to their health, or ‘violate the spirit’ of the sport. 

In 2018, CBD was removed from the WADA list of banned substances because it was not found to meet the prohibitory criteria, and other national organisations shortly followed suit. However, section 8 of the WADA regulations still prohibit the use of every other natural and synthetic cannabinoid during competitions like the Ashes. 

Athletes can submit a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) application to their local or national anti-doping regulatory body, requesting approval to consume a banned substance during a competition period, however there is no guarantee that this will be accepted. 

In 2022, the Australian International Basketball star Lauren Jackson hit the headlines after waiting almost six months for a successful TUE. This allowed her to continue consuming the medicinal cannabis she described as ‘life-saving’ whilst representing her country in the Basketball World Cup, making a comeback from a premature retirement that had been caused by pain. 

So far, it is unclear whether there are any International Cricketers with TUEs, however Dr Peter Brukner, who was the Australian Men’s Cricket Team Doctor up until 2017, argues athletes shouldn’t have to submit these requests in the first place.

Speaking about this issue to The Brisbane Times last year, the well-respected Sports Physician said:

“The reason cannabis is on the banned list is not because of performance enhancement, it is because of legality issues, and they didn’t want to encourage [athletes] to take it.

Arguably, it is performance limiting. There has never been any evidence it is performance enhancing.

I think it will come off [the banned list] soon. There are moves to review it, and it probably should have never been on it.”

Although Dr Peter Brukner believes that medicinal cannabis will follow in the footsteps of CBD and rise from the ashes of the banned substances list, WADA are yet to be bowled over. 

Director General of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Oliver Niggli explained in 2021:

“The question of how THC should be dealt with in a sporting context is not straightforward.

WADA is aware of the diversity of opinions and perceptions related to this substance around the world, and even within certain countries…

WADA plans to continue research in this area in relation with THC’s potential performance enhancing effects, its impact on the health of athletes and also in relation to perceptions of cannabis from athletes, experts and others around the world.”

Although over fifty countries around the world have implemented legislation that allows their residents access to medicinal cannabis in appropriate cases, those who represent their county in events like The Ashes may have to make a painful choice between their profession, and their prescription.  

Potential for therapeutic applications

Like most other types of athletes, professional cricket players tend to abide by intense training routines, diets, and strict workout regimes - but after many years this chronic, physical activity can take its toll on the body.

In 2018 a UK-based research team discovered that some of the most common health concerns amongst former elite cricketers included the need for knee or hip replacements and the development of conditions like osteoarthritis. 

These conditions were more common in former professional cricket players than in the rest of the population when compared to data from the Health Survey for England, and they are often accompanied by symptoms of pain, stiffness, and inflammation. 

In Australia and in England, osteoarthritis is an eligible condition for cannabis-based treatments, and there are a number of studies and resources that demonstrate, or vouch for, the potential efficacy of medicinal cannabis in relieving the symptom of arthritis, such as chronic pain.

As well as clinical evidence, research reports that assessed patient responses show medicinal cannabis may make a daily difference to those who need it most. A survey of patients with various forms of arthritis found that 37% of respondents had tried cannabis before, and 97% revealed it had improved their symptoms. 

As well as having a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis, professional cricket players are more likely to experience common sporting injuries such as sprains, strains, and fractures than the rest of the general population. 

Due to the potential analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties of cannabis, cannabis containing medicines or medicinal cannabis could prove therapeutically beneficial to active professional athletes by relieving injury symptoms and assisting in their recovery. 

However, despite the plant's therapeutic potential for professional athletes, anti-doping regulatory bodies remain hesitant about removing cannabis from the banned substance list altogether.

Instead, bodies like the ASADA and the UKAD assess athletes as individuals using the TUE framework, considering their eligibility to continue using medicinal cannabis during competitions like The Ashes. 

Conclusion

The Ashes is a competition that showcases the skill and talent of the English and Australian Cricket Teams as they battle it out over the course of 5 test matches, each of which typically last around 5 days. 

With the event lasting a maximum of 25 days and usually no less than 22 or 23 days, athletes in receipt of medicinal cannabis prescriptions may be hesitant about committing to becoming cannabis-free for the duration of The Ashes, especially if medicinal cannabis is consumed to relive symptoms that cause them a daily inconvenience. 

However, because health is a private thing, and because there is still a certain amount of societal stigmas that surround cannabis even for medicinal reasons, there are few athletes that are publicly vocal about their thoughts or consumption of cannabis. 

This means it is unclear how many athletes have either applied for, or have been granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption for medicinal cannabis, especially in the context of cricket. 

Even though WADA’s Oliver Niggli argues that certain cannabinoids in medicinal cannabis, like THC, may have the potential to enhance the performance of athletes, expert opinions combined with the late imposition of bans and suspensions due to cannabis consumption in cricket specifically suggest otherwise.

One example is the notorious 63-day ban served to English legend Ian Botham by the Test and County Cricket Board in 1986, after the sporting star admitted to smoking cannabis whilst on tour in New Zealand three years previously. 

It is unclear whether officials dropped the ball when it came to drug-testing in cases like this, or whether they failed to notice these hypothesised effects of cannabis on athletic performance. However, it is clear to see that cricket organisations around the world are stumped by the legalisation of medical cannabis. 

Releaf understands the importance of medical cannabis in treating various medical conditions. With our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, you can access the treatment you need without worrying about the stigma.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

Elevate your wellness with medical cannabis

Get comprehensive care, convenience, and confidence with an all-in-one treatment plan.

Check your eligibility
Authors

With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

fact checked

Compliance Director

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

Published at:


Further reading

Medical cannabis and hayfever - friend or foe?

Longer days, lush green leaves—and a streaming nose; all sure-fire signs that spring is finally here in abundance. But is your medical cannabis prescription a help or a hindrance?

Sarah Sinclair

Experts, insights, and experiences: Medical cannabis and mental health

Mental health is something that affects everyone, it’s something each individual in society has - all year round. But, this week, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Between the 13th and 19th of May, an extra effort is made to discuss the importance of mental health and how we can take care of it. And we wanted to join suit.

Lucy MacKinnon

Update on Ukraine: legalising medical cannabis, one by law at a time

Ukraine’s President signed off on Law 3528-IX, also known as The Medical Cannabis Law, back in February. This kickstarted the legalisation of medical cannabis, designed to offer relief to those suffering from conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the continued war with Russia. Here we take a look at some of the updates and amendments that have been made to accommodate for the legalisation of medical cannabis in Ukraine.

Lucy MacKinnon