New Zealand rugby player, Isaia Walker-Leawere, recently tested positive for THC and has been banned from playing on any team for one month. The 26-year-old lock (a second row rugby position) plays on the Hurricanes in Super Rugby; Hawke’s Bay; as well as the international rugby team, Māori All Blacks. According to the New Zealand Herald, he’s played in over 120 first-class matches over the past eight years.
Walker-Leawere tested positive following a match in Fiji on May 6, where he received two yellow cards and a red card. Due to the red card, Walker-Leawere went through the Sanzaar Super Rugby Pacific Judicial Process and the incident was reviewed by the Sanzaar Foul Play Review Committee on May 8. The verdict was that Walker-Leawere wouldn’t be suspended or punished.
However, on May 10 he spent time with friends to “wind down” from the week’s events, which is when he consumed cannabis. His suspension for testing positive went into effect starting on August 5.
“We don’t believe that cannabis is performance-enhancing,” said Drug Free Sport New Zealand Chief Executive Nick Paterson. “Getting Mr. Walker-Leawere substance of abuse support and back into sport after serving his sanction is the most practical outcome, and supports long-term athlete health and wellbeing.”
However, Paterson added that attempts are being made to remove cannabis from the list of illegal substances. “We’ve advocated to remove cannabis from the prohibited list for over 15 years and will continue to do so,” Paterson continued. “However, while cannabis remains on the prohibited list, the best approach to avoiding a positive test is to avoid using it.”
The Drug Free Spot New Zealand follows guidelines from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in terms of prohibited substances. According to WADA’s 2023 Prohibited List, cannabis is banned in all forms. “All natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited except for cannabidiol (CBD). Cannabis, hashish and marijuana are prohibited. Products, including foods and drinks, containing cannabinoids, are also prohibited. All synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC are prohibited,” WADA stated on its website.
Drug Free Sport New Zealand allows athletes to undergo a treatment program to reduce their ban duration. For Walker-Leawere, he would be banned for three months instead of one month if he decided not to participate in the program.
Like other athletes in the U.S., some rugby players have come forth about the benefits of cannabis consumption. Welsh rugby player Dominic Day and English rugby player George Kruis also spoke up in support of CBD in the past, which led to the founding of their athletic-focused brand, fourfiveCBD in 2019.
FourfiveCBD targets health and wellness for quality of life improvements. “At fourfive, our mission is simple—we want to help people lead healthier, happier lives through the power of CBD and Vitamin supplements—and we only use the highest quality plant extracts and ingredients. Our premium blends are designed by world class scientists to fit seamlessly into your daily routine, whether you’re taking CBD oil, capsules or vitamins,” the brand wrote on its website.
According to a BBC interview, Day started using CBD when recovering from knee surgery, which helped reduce inflammation and improve his sleep as well. “The first thing I noticed was my sleep was amazing. The inflammation in my knee also went down and it relieved the pain. I was sold from then on,” Day said.
Kruis also added the benefits of sleep, as well as reducing his use of opioids. “Sleep was definitely one of the things it helped with for me,” Kruis said. “But I also have low-level chronic pain and I was able to reduce the amount of painkillers I was taking.”