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Electronic Sports Pros Are Tested For Cannabis, But Should They Be?

Detractors argue marijuana is a gaming performance enhancing drug, and that its consumption shouldn’t be promoted, especially since many fans are minors.

So far in 2019, pro gamers have competed for over $196 million in prize money. And that’s just the top of the digital iceberg. Gamers are racking in real-world loot through lucrative endorsements and revenue from streaming on sites such as YouTube and Twitch. With the growth in professional gaming, it’s little wonder pro gamers are drug tested just like their athletic counterparts.

While testing for some substances makes sense, the drug testing used by many leagues detects marijuana. This has prompted some to ask if cannabis should be banned, while detractors argue it’s a gaming performance enhancing drug, and that its consumption shouldn’t be promoted, especially since many fans are minors.

A major concern for both gaming organizers as well as athletic associations is the integrity of their sport, providing all competitors with a level playing field and severely punishing cheaters. Some pro gamers have admitted to using stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin as performance enhancing drugs (PED), prompting leagues and teams to begin banning and testing for these substances. While these and other stimulants are prohibited for their ability to give gamers an edge, they are also banned to dissuade young people from abusing drugs to gain an advantage in sports.

Organizations such as the Electronic Sports League (ESL) work with athletic anti-doping agencies at the international and country level. Many times, the ESL adopt the same list of prohibited substances, which include cannabis and most natural and synthetic cannabinoids, with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) expressly making an exemption for CBD.

Is Marijuana A Gaming Performance Enhancing Drug?

Some argue that marijuana is counterproductive at enhancing gaming performance, with others pointing to some of marijuana’s effects as being actually advantageous to gaming, slowing motor skills and response times.

RELATED: Science: Cannabis Does Not Make You Lazy After All

Another argument put forth by proponents of a marijuana ban also point to the youthful audience and the potential for pros to serve as role models, saying that cannabis use is illegal and harmful and competitors should set an example of virtuous living.

Electronic Sports Pros Are Tested For Cannabis, But Should They Be?
Photo by Lucas Ortiz via Unsplash

Some gamers, however, report that consuming pot gives them a competitive boost, allowing them to remain calm in even the most frenetic matches. Marijuana’s ability to relieve inflammation and pain can allow gamers to continue playing longer than they would have otherwise. Marijuana also has the ability to inspire more creativity, which is  commonly cited among gamers as a positive effect on their performance, as it leads them to conjure inventive strategies and tactics on the cyber battlefield.

RELATED: The Science Behind Marijuana And Gaming Performance

The detection methods for pot in e-sports, if present, are not Olympic-level. Saliva samples are the norm, and therapeutic use exemptions are available for banned substances with a physician’s note, although it’s unknown if an e-sports competitor has yet applied for and/or received a cannabis exemption. The focus and priority is in-competition use of banned substances, so pro gamers generally don’t have to fear repercussions for a post-tournament joint.

The e-sports scene is still evolving and there is as yet a uniform standard for drug policy across different leagues, tournaments, and games. We may however see a convergence in standards as pro gaming matures and cannabis’ impact on performance is better understood.


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