Controversy erupted during the US Olympic trials this summer when promising athlete Sha’ Carri Richardson was forced to miss the Tokyo Olympics due to a positive drug test for THC.
It sparked an outcry from many stakeholders and fellow athletes that openly supported Richardson, including US football player Megan Rapinoe and President Joe Biden, who have said that the regulations need to be reviewed.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have come out and announced that the substance will be reviewed next year however it will still be on the list of banned drugs for the season in 2022, with the official revised list set to be published in later in the year. This is an encouraging sign for the people involved in athletics as it shows WADA are beginning to change and move with the times, something they haven’t been associated with in the past.
While WADA don’t specify which protocol the substance violates, they claim it includes 2 of the 3 criteria:
- Enhances, or could potentially enhance, an athlete’s performance.
- Poses a health risk for athletes.
- Violates the spirit of sport.
In the past, Olympians such as Michael Phelps have been the victim of the rules which critics have called harsh and vague.
Why did Sha’ Carri Richardson use Cannabis?
Richardson’s case is a prime example of how strict WADA are when it comes to athletes using drugs that are on their banned list. She received a lot of support following her trial times being withdrawn and it wasn’t just because of the substance she took, it was the reason behind it.
Richardson had been told by a reporter that her biological mother had passed away which influenced her decision to take the drug claiming the loss of her biological mother passing and the Olympic trials were deeply affecting her and causing her to fall off track. The drug, while on the banned list for athletes, is legal in the state of Oregon which is where Richardson was when she used it.
Richardson was given a 3 month sanction before she agreed to a counselling programme that enabled her sanction to be reduced to just 30 days. Despite this, the US Team decided against selecting her, meaning Richardson’s Olympic dream was over for another 4 years.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is a cannabinoid extracted from the marijuana plant. THC may also be found in much smaller amounts in the hemp plant. Both marijuana and hemp are part of the cannabis plant. Marijuana is psychoactive and illegal in many parts of the world including the UK.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a substance that’s extracted from a natural plant called hemp. CBD is a legal and safe product for athletes and other individuals to use. CBD does not cause psychoactivity in the brain like THC.
CBD is also incredibly versatile. You can find it in a wide range of products, such as CBD oil, topicals, edibles, supplements, and more.
Did CBD get removed from WADA’s banned list?
Cannabidiol (CBD) was removed from WADA’s banned list in 2018 however athletes still have to be incredibly careful when using it. There are traces of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in CBD products which make taking it a risk. While the benefits of CBD are unclear, athletes have been known to use it to keep themselves focused and to support their sleep, which in turn could help their performance when competing.
What lies ahead for athletes?
While WADA have confirmed the list will be reviewed and changes could be made, there seems to be a feeling that the athletes are becoming more powerful with their voices over social media and WADA are listening. As the awareness around mental health grows and insights into the sportspeople’s lives continue to be documented, as well as athletes being more open about their day to day struggles, fans and government officials appear to be more supportive and are able to do so with messages over social media.
This could have a monumental effect to the decisions that are taken by WADA and could mean radical changes in the way they work. It was believed that many athletes lost faith with WADA and the system when Russian athletes were found guilty of doping. Despite the subsequent ban they were handed, many felt the punishment wasn’t enough as they’d had their dream taken from them.
The rule change regarding Cannabis could be a significant one and could signal that further changes will be made. If WADA decide against it, they could face a fair amount of backlash from fans, government officials and the athletes themselves. The coming months will tell us a lot about how WADA are looking to progress as an organisation, and whether they’re willing to listen to the common sense of the athletes whose trust they’re desperate to win back.