Olympian Ross Rebagliati advocates for cannabis as mental performance enhancer

Ross Rebagliati, a cannabis advocate, says the stigma around athletes using it as a performance-enhancing drug is slowly dissipating.

Ross Rebagliati was stripped of his gold medal in 1998 after testing positive for THC

Snowboarder Ross Rebagliati shows off his gold medal at the Nagano Games in 1998. He was later stripped of the medal after a positive test for THC, but was later reinstated as Olympic champion. (Reuters)

The name Ross Rebagliati brings two things to mind — Olympic snowboarding and marijuana.

The Vancouver-born athlete won gold at the first ever Olympic snowboarding competition in 1998. His medal was then stripped after he tested positive for THC, a chemical compound found in cannabis.

"It was a clash of a nightmare and dream coming true all at the same time," he told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

The decision to disqualify Rebagliati was overturned and his medal was reinstated within a week of winning.

At that time, marijuana wasn't on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances although it was banned by other organizations like the International Ski Federation. The IOC followed suit in 1999.

Rebagliati has started Ross' Gold, a dispensary franchise that promotes medical and recreational marijuana for athletes. (Greg Hobbs/CBC)
 

Cannabis culture

Two decades later, marijuana is legal in several states in the U.S., while Canada is preparing to legalize recreational use in July.

"Athletes are living more and more in a cannabis culture," Rebagliati said.

International sporting regulations are still catching up, though.

Cannabis, hashish, marijuana and THC are on the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list during competitions.

The threshold was relaxed in 2013 to allow for 150 nanograms of cannabinoids per millilitre of urine instead of 15.

Under the new rules, Rebagliati would not have had his gold medal retracted.

Ross Rebagliati in action at the 1998 Olympics. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

Mental wellness

Rebagliati, a cannabis advocate, says the stigma around athletes using it as a performance-enhancing drug is slowly dissipating.

He started Ross' Gold, a dispensary franchise that promotes medical and recreational marijuana for athletes.

"It's just a perception of what people have in their minds of what performance enhancing means," he said. "It's all about wellness and mental wellness too, which is a big part of an athlete's life."

He said in particular the cannabis compound CBD, which is used to treat medical conditions like epilepsy, is gaining favour among athletes.

Unlike other extracts, it's not psychoactive and is used for sleep regulation, inflammation and anxiety.

"For me as an athlete, I use cannabis for all of those things, including motivation to keep [training]," he said. "CBD has really been the talk of the town."

As of the beginning of 2018, CBD is no longer considered a banned substance by WADA.

"I really think this was a step in the right direction for the cannabis industry worldwide," Rebagliati said.

Ross Rebagliati was stripped of his gold medal in 1998 after testing positive for THC 7:25

With files from The Early Edition.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.