WADA Adds Tramadol to Banned Substances, Takes No Action on Cannabis


WADA Adds Tramadol to Banned Substances, Takes No Action on Cannabis

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Friday published highlights of changes to be made to its 2023 list of banned substances, though which the organization will test for and sanction athletes for.

Among the biggest changes are the addition of narcotic painkiller tramadol to the banned substances list. WADA, however, resisted calls to revisit the status of cannabis and certain derivatives of the substance that are currently banned.

The recommendations for changes were generated by WADA’s executive committee meeting in Sydney Australia. That 14-person committee proposed changes to WADA’s 38-member Foundation Board, which runs the agency. It also consults with a sub-committee of independent scientific experts, the List Expert Advisory Group (LiEAG).

The full list for 2023 will be published before Oct. 1, 2022 and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

“I was very pleased today with the high level of discussion and collaboration among members of the Executive Committee,” WADA president Witold Banka said in a press release. “After full consideration of the relevant experts’ recommendations, a number of important decisions were made, including approval of the 2023 Prohibited List, which will come into effect on 1 January 2023. I would like to thank our colleagues from the Government of Australia for graciously hosting the meeting in Sydney and to all those who participated in the meeting for their ongoing commitment to clean sport, including Australia’s Sports Minister, the Hon. Anika Wells.”

One substance added to the list is tramadol, a narcotic pain reliever. An opioid, tramadol is a controlled substance in many countries because of its high risk of abuse. Tramadol has been on the WADA Monitoring Program, and the organization has funded research on tramadol’s potential to enhance athlete performance.

The tramadol ban is delayed until Jan. 1, 2024, to allow for “broad communication and education of athletes, their entourage and medical personnel so that there is a better understanding of the practical implementation of tramadol prohibition in competition.”

Cannabis is increasingly in the crosshairs, particularly as many countries (primarily in the West) and American states have decriminalized it or legalized it for recreational use. In the Olympic realm, it came WADA’s guidance came under particular scrutiny when American women’s track sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from the Tokyo Olympics for testing positive for marijuana.

The formal review hasn’t yielded changes, at least for 2023. LiEAG recommended, and the Executive Committee endorsed, THC remaining on the banned list. That seems to hinge on the rather fuzzy finding, from WADA’s Ethics Expert Advisory Group, that THC use, “violates the spirit of sport (as defined by the [World Anti-Doping] Code).”

THC is only banned for in-competition use. WADA has softened its stance on the drug. It has reduced the penalty for usage (from up to four years to as little as one month) and raised urinary concentration threshold for a positive test in 2013, such that, “the high level of cannabis required to trigger an Adverse Analytical Finding in competition today would be consistent with a significantly impaired athlete or a frequent use.”

WADA plans to continue researching the topic.

“The question of how THC should be dealt with in a sporting context is not straightforward,” director general Olivier Niggli said. “WADA is aware of the diversity of opinions and perceptions related to this substance around the world, and even within certain countries. WADA is also mindful that the few requests for THC’s removal from the Prohibited List are not supported by the experts’ thorough review. We are also conscious that the laws of many countries – as well as broad international regulatory laws and policies – support maintaining cannabis on the List at this time.”