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Should marijuana really be banned from the Olympics?
The list of substances banned from Olympic competition is staggering. Marijuana is on the list, but derivative cannabinoids aren't. Whats going on, and should marijuana even be banned?
The introduction of a new Olympic sport is a big deal. When snowboarding was introduced at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the professional Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was ecstatic to win the first gold medal in his sport. But the victory seemed short-lived.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped Rebagliati of his gold when 17.8 nanograms of marijuana were discovered in his blood. In another twist, the IOC returned Rebagliati's gold medal when it realized marijuana wasn't on its list of banned substances.
There began a contentious argument about marijuana's place in the Olympics. While the Olympics committee added marijuana to its list of banned substances in 1999—the same year the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was created to address growing concerns over illicit substances use at the Olympic Games—Rebagliati claimed his positive test resulted from second-hand smoke.
Ross Rebagliati competing at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games. (Mark Sandten/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Yet Rebagliati never denied his love for marijuana. Today he runs a cannabis branding company and is an advocate for using marijuana as a performance enhancement drug—the very argument that almost lost him the gold.
Similar to states like Colorado and California, WADA has been loosening its cannabis restrictions in recent years. In 2013, the committee upped the allowable limit of marijuana to 150 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. This translates to “smoke all you want, just not during competition.”
If substances enhance performance, why are they banned?
Substances are banned by WADA for varying reasons of performance enhancement. The anti-doping body's message to athletes is that you can’t give yourself an edge by increasing your body’s ability to perform, but you also cannot gain an edge by providing pain relief or other recovery methods through chemistry.
WADA's 2018 list of banned substances is exhausting in its specificity. There are 43 anabolic steroids listed, with the addendum that, “other substances with a similar chemical structure or similar biological effect[s]” are also banned. Such opened-ended language is the agency’s way of buffering against slight molecular changes by crafty scientists. But even this list is of exogenous drugs only—those created outside the human body through the miracle of industrial chemistry.
The list of endogenous steroids administered exogenously (as amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel does in the incredible Olympic doping documentary "Icarus") is equally long.
Also exhausting in length is the list of peptide hormones (which raise energy levels by regulating energy metabolism, cardiac function, and stress) and growth factors (which enhances the delivery of oxygen to muscles). Beta-2 agonists, usually used to treat asthma and pulmonary disorders, hormone and metabolic modulators, and diuretics are also banned.
Then there are substances banned in-competition: stimulants of all kinds, including cocaine and epinephrine, and narcotics such as fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone (but not caffeine).
So what about marijuana specifically?
Cannabinoids, the 113 compounds that exist in marijuana, get their own category. While cannabis, hashish, and marijuana are called out by name, with synthetic cannabinoids cited as well, the medicinally accepted cannabidiol gets a pass. While cannabidiol makes up 40 percent of the plant’s extract it does not have the same psychoactive effects as THC.
Cannabidiol is used in the treatment of addiction and epilepsy, as well as in pain relief for such conditions as multiple sclerosis. Add therapeutic recovery to the list. One 2012 study discovered that cannabidiol is useful as an anti-inflammatory agent, which was backed up by another study that year in mice with acute pancreatitis. A 2014 study found that cannabidiol is well-tolerated in humans, at least up to 1,500 mg per day.
Given its positive role in burgeoning research, why does WADA continue to outlaw marijuana? The committee offers three responses:
First, performance enhancement. “While the effects of marijuana can decrease hand-eye coordination and distort spatial perception, there are other effects that can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sport disciplines. Cannabis can cause muscle relaxation and reduce pain during post-workout recovery. It can also decrease anxiety and tension, resulting in better sport performance under pressure.”
Second is actual or potential risk, such as potentially negative effects on the cardiac and respiratory systems as well as mental health. Finally, WADA considers marijuana a violation of the spirit of sport, citing its illegality in many countries as well as the abuse potential which is contrary to the ethics or morals of a sport.
Ok, but should marijuana be banned?
If WADA’s concern is the reduction of pain during recovery and muscle relaxation, why is cannabidiol excluded from its banned substances list? Cannabidiol is the primary compound to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects, so this makes no sense.
The second answer is understandable, though, honestly, their citation of “paranoia and psychosis” comes straight from J Edgar Hoover’s playbook. Marijuana might exacerbate mental health issues, but evidence of its causing them is on shaky ground.
The moral argument is just strange. Alcohol, sugar, smartphones, and cigarettes are much more detrimental to the ethics of a society and, arguably, any sport that society produces, yet none appear on the banned substances list.
Just as the federal government scrambles for reasons to ban marijuana while states roll back regulations, WADA appears to be clinging to outdated stereotypes about the drug. The goal? To renew an ingrained bias against cannabis’s role in athletic competition. Alcohol is not allowed during competition, but athletes are free to drink (provided their coaches let them) during their stay. One can argue that it has stress-relief qualities as well.
This argument is important. While performance-enhancing drugs would deliver bragging rights to mere mortals who can but dream of competing in the Olympics, these substances do not belong in a realm where one-tenth of one second matters. If marijuana falls into this category, outlaw away.
But the specified inclusion of cannabidiol reveals a different story. The complex structure of cannabis and its effects on our bodies is still being understood. From what we know, this all seems like WADA is telling athletes to enjoy the anti-inflammatory benefits during recovery, just don’t get high, which is obviously a bit paternalistic.
It might take the committee a few more rounds before being honest with the evidence. Until then we can only hope more athletes won’t take the fall for taking a puff: of the 147 sanctions since 2008, 28 were for cannabis.
Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
A physicist creates an AI algorithm that predicts natural events and may prove the simulation hypothesis.
- Princeton physicist Hong Qin creates an AI algorithm that can predict planetary orbits.
- The scientist partially based his work on the hypothesis which believes reality is a simulation.
- The algorithm is being adapted to predict behavior of plasma and can be used on other natural phenomena.
Physicist Hong Qin with images of planetary orbits and computer code.
Credit: Elle Starkman
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