WADA's Olympic Ban on Sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson for Using Cannabis, May Have a Good Outcome After All

WADA's Olympic Ban on Sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson for Using Cannabis, May Have a Good Outcome After All

July 2021, cannabis fans were reeling from the news that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had banned sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson from participating in the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for cannabis at the Olympic trials this summer. International anti-doping rules currently state that using cannabis products is banned during competition. However, due to this increase in attention towards the topic, it was noted the decision by WADA to appeal the place of marijuana on the list of currently banned substances.

Who Is WADA Anyway?

WADA, otherwise known as the World Anti-Doping Agency, is an organization that works to ensure that there are no illegal substances used in sports. WADA is made up of different groups of people such as scientists, researchers, and doctors who abide by the World Anti-Coping Code, which works to harmonize regulations within sports and public authorities worldwide. To implement their mission, WADA's standard bans substances such as Marijuana and other drugs from being used by athletes.

The Controversy of Sha'Carri Richardson's

Sha'Carri Richardson was notified that she had tested at too high of levels for THC, which banned her from being able to participate at the Tokyo Olympics, even though she had just previously ran a 10.86 on June 20th in the women's 100-meter dash that automatically qualified her a spot.

While the substance is legal in the state of Oregon, where Sha'Carri resides, it's not approved under the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is the organization that enforces the legislation provided by WADA. This 30-day suspension ended three days after the Olympics, officially pushing Sha'Carri out from competing.

This move has caused considerable controversy because THC is not proven to impact performance in any way, and has long been advocated by many athletes. In fact, when Megan Rapinoe promoted CBD use, she was hailed as an ambassador for using the cannabis extract in sports.

She was reported stating that, "It's my go-to to calm me down after a hard training session or game, as well as for sleep. I've noticed a significant difference in my stress and anxiety levels when I am consistently using Mendi CBD products versus when I don't."

While Sha'Carri Richardson has publicly apologized and explained that she only used the substance to cope with her biological mother's death, no change was made to her ban from the Olympics. However, Sha'Carri Richardson was offered $250k to represent CBD company' by Dr. Dabber and her ban also would have been the perfect time to launch her own brand, Sha'Carri Richardson CBD, which she has not capitalized on.

People around the world are angry that CBD is allowed to be consumed. Still, all other synthetic or natural cannabinoids have been banned from being used, even though they both hold very similar properties.

Drug-Enforcing Officials Treat CBD Differently

WADA has long considered the use of marijuana to be a substance of abuse and has announced that if found in an athlete's system on the day of competition will be subject to punishment, including disqualification or being banned from playing.

The rules that WADA had set into place had initially banned all-natural and synthetic cannabinoids from being consumed. However, this changed on January 1st, 2018, when new rules were implemented, and CBD has now been placed on the approved list. According to WADA's rules, the substances that are added to their safety list need to satisfy two out of the three criteria:

  • It violates the spirit of sport
  • It represents a potential or actual health risk to athletes
  • It has the potential to enhance sports performance

However, what's even more unclear is how THC violates the criteria that they have set into place. While many organizations have reached out for a comment on this policy, there has not been any direct response from WADA.

CBDs Success in the World of Sports

As drug overdose deaths continue to increase in athletes, who become addicted to substances like opioids to help relieve pain associated with sports, CBD was offering an alternative with far fewer side effects. In addition, CBD has been known to reduce inflammation, provide an effective treatment to replace NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and also reduce pain. 

Many organizations like the NBA, NHL, and MLB have less rigid restrictions around the use of cannabinoids. The NFL is even actively studying the benefits of cannabinoids and looking into the approval of these compounds within sports, as an alternative to opioids.

A Review to Current Marijuana Policies

Following the outcry of people worldwide towards the ban on Sha'Carri Richardson, a recent announcement from WADA shows that they will look to re-evaluate their testing policy. Thousands of messages, petitions, and news media outlets have expressed their anger at the existing policy. They have pushed for the reconsideration of the current policy and to shift the cultural and legal standing of cannabis in a more positive direction, which has led WADA to reconsider.

This doesn't mean that the ban isn't still in place. In fact, the ban will remain on THC throughout year of 2022. The list of substances that will be prohibited for 2023 won't be finalized until next fall, so there won't be any official announcement until this point.

This is because the substances that are re-evaluated go through an extensive testing and research process from January through September. The findings are released three months before the New Year, so that athletes can adjust to any changes as necessary. Due to this process, there's no way that the marijuana policy can be changed until next year. However, this is the first time that marijuana has been reconsidered for this list, which is a win for those who support the legalization of cannabis in dope tested sports.

The Future of THC in Sports

The increase in global awareness about the benefits of marijuana has caused many organizations to consider allowing athletes to use the drug in some form for medical purposes. In fact, several studies have been done that show that cannabinoids could be a safer alternative to opioids when treating pain.

While there is no change in policies just yet, this review could lead the way to much-required research into cannabinoids such as CBD, CBC, CBG, THC and others in the use of sports, potentially resulting in the change of legislation for cannabis and cannabinoid use in addition to cannabidiol in tested sports events.