The sports doctor who advised Lauren Jackson on using medicinal cannabis as part of her comeback says the star basketballer has a straightforward case for an exemption, and believes cannabis will eventually be removed from anti-doping banned lists because it is not performance enhancing.
Dr Peter Brukner, a sports physician and researcher who has worked with leading sides such as the Australian cricket team, the Australian Olympic team, Liverpool FC and several AFL clubs, has spent the past 12 months studying medicinal cannabis before a clinical trial he is running at La Trobe University this year.
The trial is researching the effect of cannabis on osteoarthritis knee pain, and will involve many ex-AFL players. The trial is associated with Levin Health, a Melbourne-based medicinal cannabis company that last year formed a sports advisory panel of Jackson, ex-AFL coach Alastair Clarkson and jockey Damien Oliver.
Jackson, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer who is rated as one of the best female players in history, has been taking medicinal cannabis since last year to treat chronic knee pain, which led to her retirement in 2016.
Jackson has found great relief from the treatment, so much so she began contemplating a return to the court for home town team Albury Wodonga Bandits in the second-tier NBL1 East. But given almost all cannabis products are on the World Anti-Doping Agency list of substances prohibited in competition – and can attract lengthy suspensions – the 40-year said her comeback would hinge on getting a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE).
“If it is prescribed by a doctor under the appropriate process, there is a particular medicinal access scheme in Australia that you have to go through, if it is under that scheme, they will issue a TUE,” Brukner said.
“Lauren was concerned that she may not be able to continue taking the cannabis if she goes back. I have reassured her that is not the case.”
The need for athletes to seek TUEs for medicinal cannabis may be a moot point in the near future, Brukner believes. Debate has raged for years about whether cannabis is performance enhancing and belongs on WADA’s prohibited substances list.
In 2012, the Coalition of Major and Professional Sports, which represents the AFL, NRL, Rugby Australia, Cricket Australia and Tennis Australia, argued that WADA should remove cannabis from the banned list.
In 2018, WADA removed cannabidiol, which is more commonly referred to as CBD and is the non-psychoactive, pain-relieving cannabinoid found in cannabis, from its prohibited list.
Last year, US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was prevented from running in the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive to cannabis. After an outpouring of sympathy for the runner, WADA announced it would respond to feedback from “a number of stakeholders” and review cannabis’ status on the prohibited list in 2022.
“There is no performance enhancement. 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,” Brukner said.
“Arguably it is performance limiting. There has never been any evidence it is performance enhancing.
“I think it will come off soon. There are moves to review it and it probably should have never been on it. It probably affects a sport’s business more, whether people take cannabis or not. It is just one of those things, they put all those illegal, antisocial drugs on the list.
“But the use of cannabis has become more and more widespread, it is legal in half the states of America.”
Brukner said if trials confirmed medicinal cannabis was an effective source of pain relief for athletes, there would be no reason why active sportsmen and sportswomen could not use it as part of regular treatment.
Original article and image from The Sydney Morning Herald: