Cocaine use in sport

Classified by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as an ‘S6 Stimulants’ class of illicit drug, cocaine is an illegal substance listed on the Prohibited Substances and Methods list under the Substances of Abuse category.

Cocaine and sport

Classified by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as an ‘S6 Stimulants’ class of illicit drug, cocaine is an illegal substance listed on the Prohibited Substances and Methods list under the Substances of Abuse category, as a drug which is prohibited for use ‘In-Competition’.

Stimulants are a class of drug that accelerate the function of the central nervous system. They stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which causes an increase in body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and affects respiratory rate. They also suppress sensations of hunger, thirst and fatigue which when combined with sharp rises in body temperature result in an increased risk of dehydration, complete exhaustion and death.

A Substances of Abuse category was introduced as part of the 2021 Prohibited List and 2021 World Anti-Doping Code (Code).

This category was introduced in consultation with global regulatory bodies such as Sport Integrity Australia to allow more flexibility in how athletes are sanctioned if the positive test is related to substance abuse, as opposed to an attempt to enhance performance.

Cocaine use in sport FAQs:

What is cocaine?

Cocaine is illegal and highly addictive. It is a stimulant drug which speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and body, causing high levels of dopamine to be released.

What forms can cocaine come in?

Cocaine is a plant in its original form. The coca bush (Erythroxylum coca), commonly found in South America, is often processed to produce a white powdery substance. In addition to powder, cocaine may be ingested as a tea or by chewing the leaves of the coca plant.

What are the health risks of using cocaine?

While the risk to sporting careers are very real, illicit drug users are also risking their health. All drug use contains a certain degree of risk, and the harms can be physical, psychological and social.

In 2022, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre acknowledged a large increase in cocaine-related deaths in Australia since 2012, with 398 known deaths in the last five years.

International studies have shown cocaine puts added strain on the cardiovascular system during exercise. The studies found that cocaine use by athletes has been associated with acute and chronic cardiovascular disease, which can lead to coronary artery aneurysms, aortic dissection, rupture, vasculitis, and stroke.

Can cocaine improve an athlete’s performance?

Cocaine does have a performance enhancing effect when used In-Competition and is a Prohibited Substance under the World Anti-Doping Code for In-Competition use. As a stimulant, cocaine can produce an intense ‘rush’ with users feeling a sense of alertness, arousal, and increased confidence.

Why is cocaine a banned substance in sport?

All prohibited substances are added to the Prohibited List because they meet two of the three following criteria:

  • Use of the substance has the potential to enhance or enhances performance.
  • Use of the substance represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete; and
  • Use of the substance violates the spirit of sport.

What is the ‘In-Competition’ period?

The In-Competition period commences at 11.59pm the night before a competition in which an athlete is scheduled to compete, through to the end of that competition and any sample collection process undertaken.

International Federations may apply to WADA for permission to change their ‘In-Competition’ period if they have a compelling justification. Athletes should check with their International Federation to ensure that their ‘In-Competition’ period aligns with the 2021 Code.

Is it an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) to test positive to cocaine?

Yes, an athlete faces a ban of up to 4 years if a Substance of Abuse, such as cocaine, was deemed to be used In-Competition. Cocaine is a stimulant that is classified as an S6 Substance under the 2023 Prohibited List.

Substance of Abuse arrangements introduced in 2021 recognises drugs frequently abused in society, outside the context of sport, however under the World Anti-Doping Code, Sport Integrity Australia is obliged to vigorously pursue all potential Anti-Doping Rule Violations within its authority.

If we become aware of information to indicate a further Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) in a Substance of Abuse matter, leniency is not available. Other Anti-Doping Rule Violations that may arise from an investigation are Use and or Attempted Use, Possession and Trafficking or Attempted Trafficking.

What is the penalty for testing positive to cocaine?

An athlete faces a ban of up to 4 years if a Substance of Abuse is in their system In-Competition.

As of 1 January 2021, if an Athlete tests positive to a 'Substance of Abuse’, then the Athlete’s period of Ineligibility may be reduced to three months if the Athlete is able to prove that the substance was ingested or Used Out-of-Competition and was unrelated to sport performance.

The ban could be further reduced to one month if the athlete completes a Substance of Abuse treatment plan that is approved by the responsible Anti-Doping Organisation. The treatment plan adopted by Sport Integrity Australia includes the athlete being seen by a medical practitioner and the athlete completing a specific education program approved by Sport Integrity Australia. This treatment plan will be at the cost of the athlete.

When can an athlete be tested for cocaine use?

There are differences in Out-of-Competition tests conducted by Sport Integrity Australia and those tests conducted by a National Sporting Organisation under an illicit drugs policy.

Sport Integrity Australia can only test for substances prohibited In-Competition during the In-Competition period. In an Out-of-Competition environment, Sport Integrity Australia cannot test for Substances of Abuse but if an athlete uses an illicit substance Out-of-Competition, that athlete needs to be aware that these substances can stay in your system for a period of time, which might mean the substance could be detected in-competition.

Regardless of when an athlete takes illicit drugs, if they are still in their system on game day they will be penalised.

How long does cocaine remain in my system?

The effects and traces of cocaine will vary from person to person, depending on multiple factors such as size, weight, diet and activity. As an uncontrolled drug, the quality and strength can vary greatly from one batch to another. There is no definitive timeframe in which cocaine, or its metabolites will become undetectable in the system.

Can a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) be obtained for a Substance of Abuse?

No. In order to obtain a TUE the athlete must provide a detailed clinical letter from their treating doctor or specialist. As cocaine is an illegal and uncontrolled substance, there is no instance where a TUE would be issued.

What is the best way to avoid a positive cocaine result?

The simplest measure any athlete can take to avoid a positive result is to not use cocaine or any other stimulant, listed under the Substances of Abuse category within the World Anti-Doping Code.

What is Sport Integrity Australia’s stance on cocaine?

Sport Integrity Australia does not condone illicit drug use. We continue to work with sports to provide advice, support and resources to shape positive cultures to keep sport safe and fair for all. This includes but is not limited to providing free education to athletes and participants at all levels on the risk of using prohibited substances in sport.

Want to know more? To learn more about banned substance and stimulant use you can access the WADA Prohibited List.

If you are you concerned that a substance you are taking may contain a banned ingredient, see how to check your substances

Resources

Cocaine use in sport flyer for athletes [PDF 233.92kB]

Cocaine in sport factsheet [PDF 342.85kB]

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