Have we reached a verdict on medical marijuana?

With recreational cannabis on the horizon, implications for health care remain uncertain

Have we reached a verdict on medical marijuana?

The seizures started in 1959, when Terrance Parker was four years old.

‘Grand mals,’ they were called — a term that rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century and loosely translates to ‘a great evil.’

He could tell when they were about to happen. The hairs on the nape of his neck prickled in anticipation. A fear of the known, it was unlike any other, yet he could do little to prevent it.

As the electrical storm raced in his brain, his limbs jerked violently and his consciousness shredded. He would later be placed on an anticonvulsant therapy, and go through medications such as Dilantin, Mysoline, and Librium with little success.

The lobectomies, first performed at the Hospital for Sick Children, or SickKids, at age 14, and then 16, failed to effectively improve his symptoms. Parker’s prognosis appeared bleak.

At least, it did until he was introduced to cannabis by a worker at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. He would smoke a joint to get high and receive immediate, albeit brief, relief from the havoc that the seizures wreaked on his body. As he continued to smoke, however, something curious happened.

The seizures stopped.

“After 38 years of this terrible affliction, and hundreds, if not more than a thousand seizures, I can say that it is only with the assistance of marijuana that I have ever been able to fight through the [fear] and stave off an oncoming grand mal,” stated Parker, in a 1997 affidavit after he was arrested for the possession and trafficking of cannabis.

Parker was acquitted of all charges in 2000, after the judge declared his arrest unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated his rights to life, liberty, and security. It was at that moment that Terrance Parker became the first individual in Canada to use marijuana legally, for medical reasons. Regulated medical cannabis later became legal in 2001.

There are many individuals with stories like that of Parker — of discovering hope in this herbaceous flowering plant.

Although controlled clinical trials that determine a direct causal relationship between the use of cannabis and the frequency of seizures have been few and far between, there is mounting anecdotal evidence of its efficacy in treating epilepsy.

Exposure to cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component in marijuana, has been linked to the reduction of seizure frequency in pediatric epilepsy and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a form of severe childhood-onset epilepsy.

Despite evidence being mainly anecdotal, Dr. David Juurlink, Head of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Sunnybrook Hospital and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at U of T, believes a case can be made for the judicious prescription of cannabis.

According to Juurlink, cannabis is particularly useful for patients whose symptoms have improved with its use. It should be prescribed on a case-by-case basis, while also considering other drugs with similar effects.

Meanwhile, high-quality scientific evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis in the treatment of symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) like chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity — the tightness and stiffness of muscles preventing normal movement — has been well established.

In a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Neurology, 124 individuals with MS and spasticity were given a cannabis-based medicine containing CBD and the primary psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while 65 individuals were given a placebo for a duration of six weeks. The results of this research gave cannabis the green light.

Studies published in 2004 and 2006 in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal had also found similar results, confirming the growing optimism that cannabis can be used to relieve symptoms associated with MS.

In a 2009 Nature study, researchers used similar methodologies to study the effects of cannabis for neuropathic pain in patients with HIV. The researchers found that the 28 subjects, who completed both placebo and cannabis treatments, experienced greater pain relief when they were treated with cannabis.

But despite what a quick Google search might tell you, cannabis is not a panacea for all diseases and disorders.

Dr. Tony George, Chief of Addictions at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and also Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, found that THC in marijuana actually worsens symptoms of psychosis in patients with schizophrenia, and could induce psychosis in those who have a family history of the disorder.

Surprisingly, isolating certain cannabinoids may have the opposite effect.

“CBD seems to oppose the effects of THC… and [CBD] is being studied for anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, and anti-addictive, and cognitive enhancing effects,” said George. “If that’s true, that could be a very exciting breakthrough in therapeutics in psychiatry, and it may be a potential pain strategy.”

Currently, there is simply not enough evidence to conclude that cannabis can effectively treat a myriad of mood disorders and other debilitating diseases. It has only been proven for a few diseases, and often in isolated cases.

According to George, thus far, there are only indications that cannabinoids have positive effects on post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, or glaucoma, and evidence to support these indications is not substantive.

Yet, preliminary research is promising and may pave the way for its unrestricted use.

With the impending legalization of recreational cannabis, however, there are some concerns over what will become of Health Canada’s medical marijuana program. “The problem is that the current approach by the government is sort of full speed ahead, without doing the due diligence to find out the facts,” said George.

“There [are] only about 30,000 or 40,000 people using in a country of 35 million people,” he explained. “I don’t know what the future of medical marijuana is, but if you’re someone who is a patient or family member, or a healthcare professional that’s invested in that, I think there is some reason to be concerned.”

The disconnect between drivers and cyclists

Toronto is in need of a major culture upgrade for the sake of cyclists and commuters

The disconnect between drivers and cyclists

The common portrayal of cyclists in downtown Toronto is that of a careless and reckless lot: dipping in and out of traffic, passing stop lights and stop signs, and wreaking havoc on our roads. Living in the city does not instill a fear of cars, but of bicycles. Even so, to force the brunt of the burden for accidents and fatalities on the road onto cyclists is unfair.

Toronto drags behind other cities in road safety because it lacks a vibrant cyclist culture that can coexist with motor transportation. Recently, Dalia Chako, 58, was fatally struck by a truck driver while making a turn on Bloor and St. George.

According to CBC News, her son, Skylor Brummans, “believes the truck driver involved… just wasn’t looking for cyclists during [the] turn, which led to the collision.” Although cyclists are present in the downtown area, their presence is often not thought of as part of our urban space.

This incident shows the large disconnect between cyclists and drivers in Toronto. This mental block is what deters both sides from taking caution on the roads, and adds to the lack of progress in funding and infrastructure necessary to create a safer space for everyone.

In 2016, John Tory announced a new “comprehensive” safety plan called Vision Zero, which aims to reduce “traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries on the streets of Toronto” from 2017 to 2021. Just over two years since this plan was announced, the administration has failed to make vital improvements to not only the infrastructure of the city, but also relationships on the road.

The failure to make any noticeable improvements on the state of traffic-related fatalities in the city of Toronto has caused an uproar, and despite promises to improve road safety for Toronto cyclists, this year has been one of the deadliest for both cyclists and pedestrians.

Toronto falls behind cities such as New York, which has made drastic investments in infrastructure to reduce the number of collisions and drivers on the road. In the past four years, New York has significantly reduced its number of pedestrian deaths. An investigation conducted by the Toronto Star revealed that the measures outlined in Toronto’s unrealized plans for road safety parallel the successful actions taken by New York to safeguard its cyclists: “redesigned roads and narrowed lanes to slow down traffic; increased use of bicycle lanes; reduced speed limits and increased pedestrian crossings and markings.”

How has New York, a city much larger, more populous, and more chaotic than Toronto, surpassed us in safety and reconstruction?

Toronto needs to follow New York’s example with a major upgrade to meet the demands of its growth. Physical and mental coexistence between pedestrians, cyclists, and cars on our roads is vital to the transformation of the Toronto city space. We therefore need to change our mental attitude and demand space for a safe and effective cycling culture, especially given its benefits.

As an aerobic activity, cycling is a full-body workout that benefits those who spend much of their working and leisure time sedentary. By pushing cycling as a vital activity integral to the urban lifestyle, people are encouraged to be more active rather than exercising as an afterthought or hobby. Exercise is also linked to improvements in mood through the release of endorphins, providing some relief from the mental health crisis present in society.

While some may argue that cycling gear and upkeep is costly, Toronto’s ubiquitous bike sharing stations help alleviate that cost. Otherwise, cycling also cuts the financial and environmental costs of gas. which the city can further reduce by making public transportation more accessible and cheaper.

It is true that many cyclists are not cautious on the road, and reminding drivers of a presence that is given little voice or attention on the streets of Toronto is hard. The solution requires an investment in infrastructure and funding that asserts cyclists’ presence and equal rights to the road. We need better infrastructure, not just for the sake of cyclists and pedestrians, but for all commuters.

Rehana Mushtaq is a third-year English and Religion student at University College.

International Women’s Day urges us to ‘press for progress’ on working conditions

Securing decent work bears positive ramifications for gender equity and women’s health

International Women’s Day urges us to ‘press for progress’ on working conditions

International Women’s Day (IWD) arrives yet again on March 8, presenting another opportunity to reflect on the status of gender equality in our society. This year has already been galvanized by powerful movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, which clearly demonstrate an amplified interest in progressing issues related to gender equality. Quite appropriately, the theme of IWD this year is #PressforProgress, calling on the community to advance efforts in all areas on gender-inclusive action worldwide.

Recalling that International Women’s Day was born out of women’s labour struggles at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and Europe, it is time to return to these roots. Despite many achievements in women’s equality in the labour sector, we must press for progress on remaining shortcomings, particularly in our own province.

Many women continue to face discrimination and unfair working conditions in Ontario. In fact, precarious employment overall has increased in Canada by nearly 50 per cent in the last 20 years, and women are overrepresented in the population that faces such conditions. Research shows that racialized immigrant women specifically experience a higher burden of precarious employment in the province. As children of working immigrant women, this is a reality we have seen first-hand.

Ontario is still far from where it needs to be when it comes to equity in the labour sector. As public health students, our work entails closely reviewing the evidence linking  working conditions to ramifications for health and wellbeing. Governed by provincial labour policy, employment and working conditions directly influence health by determining individuals’ income, which ultimately dictates the affordability of aspects of healthy living such as nutritious foods, stable housing, and  medication. Additionally, flexibility in working hours and access to paid leaves affect people’s ability to look after themselves in times of illness. Research shows that having insecure and precarious employment results in anxiety and greater social isolation.

Fortunately, some progress has been made in this area. In November 2017, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, or Bill 148, was passed in Ontario, with many of its measures implemented in January 2018. Some of the changes brought about by this bill include the increase in minimum wage, equal pay for equal work regardless of employee status, and an increase to a total of 10 days of emergency leave per year, two of which are paid at employee’s regular rate. It is also inclusive of new scheduling practices around shift changes and cancellations, ensuring that employees are given fair notice.   

The bill is definitely a step in the right direction — it is progress on labour rights for all in Ontario. But for women, who form the majority of those in precarious forms of work, there is more to be done. This is especially true in certain industries. For instance, the caregiving sector, primarily made up of women, is overwhelmingly susceptible to precarious working conditions. It is often low-wage with no flexibility in scheduling, not to mention that it is mentally and physically exhausting given the emotional toll that caregiving can take. This sector is also highly racialized, as immigrant and racialized women are often pushed into caregiving jobs.

Despite these struggles, however, workers in caregiving in private homes and in other sectors are banned from forming a union to collectively advocate for improved standards and working conditions. Currently, exemptions and regulations in other legislations like the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act exclude workers in certain sectors and of certain origins from the right to unionize.

Current efforts to improve working conditions through Bill 148 can only be successful if they are implemented well. This includes ensuring that employees are aware of new changes and that they are also well-equipped with support and information in the event that this legislation is not being adequately applied in their workplace. Migrant workers, for example, are specifically vulnerable, as they may be repatriated by exploitative employers if they complain.

With this year’s IWD theme being ‘pressing for progress,’ the time is right to insist on improving working conditions for women in Ontario. While there is much to celebrate in terms of labour rights in the province, we should be cognizant of the many changes that still need to be made.

It is also important to be critical and push for change not only on IWD, but all year round — especially in light of the provincial election in June and the potential implications its outcome may bring for Bill 148 and gender equality in women’s everyday lives. As young people, if we want a more progressive and equitable society, we should celebrate achievements in the labour sector for women on March 8, but continue to press our politicians on this cause going forward.


Sandani Hapuhennedige and Afnan Naeem are Master’s students at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and steering committee members of the Decent Work and Health Network.

U of T prof’s startup takes cancer therapy to clinical trials

Pionyr Immunotherapeutics raises $62 million in series B investment round

U of T prof’s startup takes cancer therapy to clinical trials

A biotech startup co-founded by Sachdev Sidhu, a professor in U of T’s Department of Molecular Genetics, has drawn in $62 million USD following a second round of funding, bringing its total investments to $72 million USD.

Pionyr Immunotherapeutics, which is now planning to take its anti-cancer therapy to clinical trials, initially began as a research collaboration between Sidhu and Max Krummel, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Founded in 2015, the California-based startup combined Sidhu’s expertise in antibody phage-display technology with Krummel’s immune system biology research.

This project is a collaborative effort with Toronto Recombinant Antibody Centre (TRAC), which was founded by Sidhu and Dr. Jason Moffat, who is also a Molecular Genetics professor at U of T. Housed in the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, TRAC researchers are working to harness the therapeutic potential of synthetic antibodies.

Synthetic antibodies can be engineered to target a variety of molecules implicated in disease and they are key for drug development. Pionyr’s anti-cancer therapy, known as Myeloid Tuning, uses the high specificity afforded by synthetic antibodies to bolster the immune system’s defence against cancer by manipulating a tumour’s microenvironment.

The immune system uses T cells to detect foreign molecules to evoke a defensive response. Because tumours are created from existing cells in the body, they evade recognition by T cells, dampen the immune response, and proliferate uncontrollably. The key is to restore the body’s immune capacity to fight cancer — this is the premise of immunotherapy in oncology, better known as immuno-oncology.

“So the idea there is simple: you want to turn on a T cell, you simply find proteins that are inhibiting that T cell,” said Sidhu.

Myeloid Tuning achieves this by “alter the tumour microenvironment to favour immune-activating cells over immune-suppressing cells” and enhances anti-tumour defenses. “T cells are activated not by targeting them but by eliminating the inhibitory cell population,” said Sidhu.

Pionyr’s technology could also complement existing anti-tumour therapies like T cell checkpoint inhibitors. Checkpoints are regulators that mediate communication between T cells and the immune system. They are responsible for fine-tuning the body’s immunity and downregulating it when it detects native cells, which would otherwise lead to an autoimmune response. By incorporating checkpoint inhibitors, therapies can be developed to block a tumour’s ability to evade T cell detection.

Ipilimumab, commercially known as Yervoy, set the precedent by becoming the first United States Food and Drug Administration-approved therapeutic antibody against skin cancers and for ushering in a new wave of immuno-oncology. The drug, co-invented by Krummel, inhibits cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein-4, one of many checkpoints found on T cells. Similarly, pembrolizumab, or Keytruda, inhibits the checkpoint called programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1).

“Anti-PD-1 binds the T cell and… activates it that way, and then we add another antibody that eliminates inhibitory myeloid cells, so you get double [the effect],” said Sidhu.

Sidhu says there is a critical question in field: does the rest of the tumour simply not have T cells that can attack them or are there additional yet unidentified breaks? These possibilities are not mutually exclusive and are already being investigated. According to Sidhu, the future of immuno-oncology is already here.

Myeloid Tuning is a very promising method, but it is not the only immuno-oncology treatment in the works. Currently, therapeutic agents being researched involve other immune cells like macrophages and natural killer cells that can be exploited for anti-tumour therapies.

“[There is] very little that is not being explored as far as immune cell activation,” said Sidhu. “It’s exciting in that, while only a subset of cancers responds to immunotherapy, the ones that do respond often respond tremendously.”

Are french fries healthy after all?

Rejoice, U of T scientists have published a study in defense of the potato

Are french fries healthy after all?

A recent study published in the online journal Nutrition & Diabetes authored by U of T’s Department of Nutritional Science has found that potatoes and potato-by-products may have garnered an undeserved bad reputation among the health-conscious community.

Dr. G. Harvey Anderson,  executive director of the Centre for Child Nutrition and director of the study, would like to make it very clear that his findings do not give you the scientific green light to start inhaling as many french fries as you can get your hands on.

In fact, the key to results lies precisely in the fact that eating french fries will help you moderate your carbohydrate intake more effectively than alternative sources of starch.

“I grew up on a farm, [so] I’m a meat and potatoes person,” Anderson explained in an interview with The Varsity, “and you know I’m not young anymore, and I have no health problems. So I got thinking… if we eat meals, with [some] of those carbohydrates as a side — the french fries, deep fried or mashed potatoes, or rice, or pasta — which ones would stop you eating quickest?” 

To answer this question, Anderson and his team brought in 20 children, between the ages of 10 and 13, for a randomized crossover study to compare the participant’s caloric intake, blood glucose level and insulin production for three potato-based and two non potato-based types of carbohydrate.

The trick however, was that all the participants had to consume 100 grams of lean meat, in the form of meatballs, before they were allowed to start stuffing their faces with french fries.

According to Anderson, the ‘satisfaction factor’ of eating until you’re full had been frequently overlooked in previous studies on calorie intake, which is why the consumption of protein prior to the consumption of starch was such a key point of the study.

“If you have protein with your meal, protein is also satisfying,” Anderson explained. “…[T]his is often the problem with Italian pasta meals and so on, is that it tends to be all carbohydrate and not much protein, and so people get fat.” 

Ultimately, the human body requires carbohydrates to function. Yet not all carbs are created equal. What was most unexpected about the results, is that even french fries cooked in oil came out higher in the carbohydrate health hierarchy than pasta and rice. Mashed potatoes were the real winner, with children consuming 30-40 per cent fewer calories at meals.

The fried french fries (as opposed to baked french fries) lead to the lowest meal and post-meal glucose and insulin levels out of all the starches tested.

“The blood sugar for these kids went up quickly when they ate mashed potatoes,”  said Anderson, “and [although] it went to the same level as the rice and the pasta, but because it went up  quickly [for the potato starches], they stopped eating quicker. Somewhere on there there was a trigger.”  Anderson also pointed out that in addition to feeling satiated faster, starches consumed from potatoes rather than grains will fill your body with far more nutrients per calorie than those consumed from grains. 

“Potatoes have a better source of vitamin C than orange juice or bananas, and yet doctors recommend bananas… for potassium,” Anderson explains. “Potatoes are a very healthy vegetable — they’re a vegetable. Rice is not a vegetable, it’s a grain, and so is pasta.” 

Anderson emphasizes that young people shouldn’t be afraid of carbs — especially not potatoes. As all nutrition advice goes: all meals should be balanced, and all foods should be consumed in moderation.  “All I’m saying is that the advice is… don’t just eat pasta by itself or french fries by itself,”  says Anderson, “ make sure you have a protein. It could be tofu, it could be a vegetarian source, or it could be fish — it doesn’t have to be meatballs.” 

“Take the time to eat a meal, eat a combination, and then all your carbohydrates are healthy.”   

Five ways you can “clean up” your diet

The “clean eating” trend doesn’t have to be restrictive or expensive

Five ways you can “clean up” your diet

As it happens, the old adage, “you are what you eat” usually holds true. What we consume and how we consume it affects how the trillions of cells in our bodies function. For students especially, eating has the ability to influence our mood, sleeping patterns, energy levels, and immune systems, all of which can be affected by the lack of sleep, exam stress, and lack of self-care students tend to experience.

In order to optimize the functioning of our brain and body, we have to start with what we’re feeding our cells. This means cleaning up the way we eat.

The concept of “clean eating” emerged out of programs like the South Beach Diet and gluten-free trend which advocate for eating more or less of a certain type of nutrient — like carbs or protein. The basis of clean eating is to consume food in the most natural and unrefined state possible. Although the concept has received a bad reputation for being too restrictive and expensive, basic principles of clean eating — like choosing foods that are nutritious and unprocessed — are changes we can all benefit from.

To get everyone started on their journey to optimum health, here are five ways you can clean up your diet.

1. Avoid packaged foods

Although not all packaged foods are bad, like chickpeas and oats, most foods that come in a package are heavily processed. Many processed foods contain additives, preservatives, excess sugar, and sodium. These can have negative effects on our health — not to mention our waistlines. One way to distinguish between “good” packaged foods and “bad” packaged foods is to look at the ingredient list. If the list is full of ingredients you can’t pronounce or is longer than 10 ingredients, it’s best to leave it on the shelf.

Tip: Prepare your meals at the start of every week so you don’t feel the need to buy something fast or pre-packaged when you’re running between classes.

2. Hydrate with water

Juice and soda may momentarily quench your thirst, but these beverages cannot replace the superpowers of water. It’s very easy for students to get caught up in busy routines and forget to stay hydrated, but drinking regular amounts of water throughout the day is important for optimizing your health. The amount of water you should drink in a day depends on your activity level, but the standard is generally eight to ten glasses. Staying hydrated with water is crucial for eliminating toxins from your body, keeping your energy high, and your mind sharp.

Tip: Carry around a large, measured water bottle so you can keep track of how much water you’re drinking throughout the day, making you more conscious of staying hydrated.

3. Fill up on veggies

Vegetables contain essential vitamins and nutrients that are necessary to keep us looking and feeling our best. They also contain fiber, which is not only vital for maintaining a healthy digestive system, but also helps you feel full longer. Besides the nutritional value, one of the advantages of loading up on veggies is that they’re low in calories, so you can eat large portions without worrying about the scale. Adding a serving of vegetables to each meal will do wonders for your body and immune system.

Tip: Vegetables can be cooked a number of different ways and can be mixed with a variety of other foods, so get creative and experiment with different recipes!

4. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit

A crucial part of clean eating is reducing your sugar intake. Anyone with a sweet tooth knows how difficult avoiding donuts or cookies can be when you get a wicked craving, but swapping unhealthy sweets for nature’s candy is a smart way to curb that craving. Fruit is rich in fiber and essential nutrients. It also contains natural sugars, which makes it a sweet and healthy snack.

Tip: If you find eating plain fruit boring, try mixing it with Greek yogurt and granola, and turn it into a nutritious parfait.

5. Focus on the composition of calories, not just the number of calories

Unfortunately, it’s become mainstream to obsessively count every calorie consumed in a day. 100 calories of candy is very different from 100 calories of vegetables, and your body knows the difference. Rather than focusing solely on how many calories you’re consuming each day, focus on the nutrients you’re consuming. Incorporate a balance of healthy fats, lean protein, and complex carbohydrates within your daily caloric intake and your body will thank you for it.

Tip: Shop the nutrient-rich perimeter of the grocery store, and avoid roaming the isles stocked with packaged and processed foods.

Go big or go home

Students and their love of supplements

Go big or go home

Professional athletes and weightlifters have been using supplements to increase muscle mass and help with recovery for a long time. ‘Iron Guru’ Vince Gironda was known to drink a concoction of raw eggs, protein powder, and heavy cream after working out, and athletes like Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and professional race car driver Danica Patrick are both spokespeople for the supplement brand Six Star Pro Nutrition.

Although you’d be hard pressed to find a student who drinks raw eggs, U of T does have a multitude of students who use supplements like protein powder or creatine as well as other pre-workout and post-workout blends. Bolstered by the popularity of protein shakers, the supplement industry is booming and students are some of its top customers.   

Realizing that the student demographic is increasingly in-demand of workout supplements, Jacked Scholar an e-commerce supplements provider has created a place for students to shop for, and buy their favourite supplement brands. 

Travis McEwan, founder of Jacked Scholar admits that, “the market in this demographic has never been bigger.” Jacked Scholar has even gone so far as to employ more than a hundred “campus ambassadors” for the company. 

According to the global consulting firm McKinsey, knowledge-based consumers are driving the recent attention to supplements. In their study of supplements, the company notes that 96 per cent of adults who use the Internet have used online resources to help them make decisions about their health and fitness choices. 

Companies like Jacked Scholar target the university demographic, hoping to entice students with cheaper prices on name-brand goods, and out-compete both local supplement stores and chains like GNC. It makes sense because e-commerce can provide a better price on a given line of products for students. 

Annette Latoszewska, a U of T student and former Jacked Scholar U of T representative, uses various supplements when she has the time to commit to a workout routine. “I like to complement [my routine] with supplements. Cellucor C4 pre-workout, not picky about my protein so it’s whatever is decent and cheap for post-workout and then I’ll use Cellucor SuperHD twice a day for fat burning,” she said.

Latoszewska also explained her duties while affiliated with the company; she was tasked to “promote the brand to generate sales. When your discount code is associated with the sale online, you get the credit [commission].”

Despite the fact the Latoszewska did not purchase supplements from the company, citing “cheaper options” she does admit that there is earning potential for those willing to put in the requisite time and effort. 

Nevertheless, McEwan is confident that the market at universities only has more room to grow. “We’re getting to the point where we can be pickier about the type of students that we accept into the campus rep program,” he explained. 

Another advantage of having supplements on campus is that it provides for an innovative testing lab. According to the McKinsey study, “new products will be offered as fads [and] go in and out of vogue.” Because U of T is like a Mecca for diverse groups of people, campus-specific supplement companies have the perfect ecosystem to observe what supplements work and what supplements don’t. 

Whether or not students will be interested in the long-run is an entirely different matter. Danny Lee, an economics student at U of T is aware of the campus presence and is firm when he advises students to “follow a workout schedule and eat right. Protein powder is like icing on top of the well-disciplined cake.” 

Supplements represent more of an idea to students than a reality — the idea of what’s possible. The truth is in the name. These producst are intended to supplement your normal, healthy diet, not replace it. So at the end of the day make sure that what’s at the end of your fork is more important than what’s at the bottom of your supplement bottle.

Don’t be a dope

Part two of a series explaining the significance of doping and drug testing in sport

Don’t be a dope

For many North American athletes, whether Olympic hopefuls or professionals, collegiate athletics is the first step to a professional contract or gold medal. Shifting from amateur athletes requires an increased amount of time dedicated to more intense training regimes, and it also brings with it stricter rules: especially when it comes to doping.

Any athlete who is a member of either of the two major collegiate sporting bodies in North America, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is required to follow the world anti-doping code, established in 2004 by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

This code covers many different classes of substances, and perhaps most importantly, emphasizes the fact that it is the athletes themselves who are ultimately responsible to ensure that they are not violating any of its policies. If an athlete is found to have violated any part of the code, whether intentionally or not, they may face serious consequences.

So what exactly do the CIS and NCAA do in order to help educate and protect their athletes? The CIS, in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), have created an anti-doping program for all its athletes. The program consists of courses the athletes must take in order to be cleared to play. Each athlete’s CCES account also gives them access to further educational resources, including the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP), a quick reference card on the policies in place, and the ‘prohibited list,’ taken directly from WADA’s website.

Blood doping paraphernalia. Nathan Chan/THE VARSITY

Blood doping paraphernalia. Nathan Chan/THE VARSITY

The NCAA has a similar practice in place. Each athlete must sign a consent form at the beginning of the year indicating that they understand the rules, and that they give their consent to be tested at any time. If they do not sign this form, then they are not able to play. Finally, NCAA athletes must submit a student athlete statement, which provides the NCAA with more drug use information.   

Both organizations also warn against taking any nutritional supplements due to the fact that they are poorly regulated and may contain banned substances, which could lead to violating the code for an athlete. On their websites, the CCES and NCAA provide additional resources which athletes can consult in order to determine whether or not something they are taking is classified as a banned substance or not.

Closer to home, and in addition to completing the online courses through the CCES, many Varsity Blues athletes attend anti-doping seminars during orientation week each year. This seminar is organized and run by members of the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic, and it serves to further inform the athletes about anti-doping policies and the potential dangers of doping. If an athlete is caught, they can face a number of consequences, including but not limited to being suspended, being stripped of their title, or being banned from competition.

In a 2013 TEDx talk at U of T Doug Richards, medical director of the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic, and an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology and physical education, mentioned that the culture of risk that is associated with the ‘winning at all costs’ mentality in sports can lead to using performance enhancing agents. “Look at the behaviour of athletes in respect to doping” said Richards, “they’re willing to take dangerous substances, subject themselves to potential bodily harm, they’re willing to cheat and potentially get caught and kicked out all in the name of increasing their probability that they might win.” Doping is not only a choice an athlete makes in order to increase their chances of winning, but it is also an extreme reaction to the culture within sport where winning has traditionally been the only predicator of success. 

So why do athletes dope in the first place? Well, the short answer is to increase their chances of winning. With over 284 purported doping cases in professional sport in 2014 and the recent state-sponsored Russian doping scandal, it doesn’t look like anti-doping education is as effective as it can be. It is clear that doping is a very complex issue in collegiate-level and professional sport, but the system could potentially benefit from an overhaul by changing the emphasis on the individual to focusing on the sports community to take the pressure off of winning.

Until that point, we will have to rely on information sessions and tests to commit athletes to ‘playing true.’