Sha’Carri Richardson should be the last sportsperson to face a sporting ban for cannabis use

9th July 2021

US track sensation, Sha’Carri Richardson made headlines around the world last week as it was revealed the record-setter had tested positive for cannabis use during the Olympic trials in Oregon. Following the revelation, countless people from various sectors came together to support Sha’Carri Richardson and condemn the archaic inclusion of cannabis in anti-doping regulations.

In an interview following the positive test, Richardson took full responsibility for breaking the rules and accepted the ban that would see her disqualified from the 100m event in Tokyo, gracefully. However, the athlete also did not apologise for her actions, stating simply on Twitter: “I am human”.

Richardson revealed that she had used cannabis as a way to help cope with the death of her biological mother. Considering the proven relative harmlessness of cannabis, and the many risks that go hand in hand with painkillers and other prescription medications, and even alcohol, are we to accept that if Richardson had instead turned to these substances, all would be well?

Many are beginning to see that this should not be the case.

Cannabis is now increasingly being considered a viable medical option in many jurisdictions, with more countries even beginning to consider the legalisation of the ‘drug’ for recreational use. Research is even demonstrating that cannabis compounds can be a viable alternative to painkillers such as highly addictive opioids.

Why, then, is cannabis still listed in anti-doping regulations’ lists of banned substances?

In the US, the nation that Sha’Carri Richardson was set to represent at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, medical cannabis is now legal in over 30 states. Furthermore, recreational legalisation is also sweeping the country, with over one-third of Americans now living in a cannabis-legal state. This liberalisation of the drug shows no signs of slowing, as more governments consider changing their prohibitionist approach to the drug.

Lawmakers are finally beginning to realise that the War on Drugs is no longer a viable option – something that many advocates and voters have been telling them since the implementation of the failed attempt to control drug use fifty years ago.

Cannabis has been used as a medicinal staple for thousands of years, with modern research showing that cannabis compounds can be useful in the treatment of many conditions and ailments.

The number of sporting stars – particularly in the US – who have revealed their experiences with cannabis is notable. While the legality of THC – the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis – remains uncertain, sporting advocacy for the benefits of cannabis has been largely represented in the growing CBD sector.

A large number of sports stars, from rugby and NFL players to golf stars and boxing champions, have developed either an ambassadorship for CBD brands, or have even started their own companies.

For many, the compound’s anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) properties have made the compound a useful tool both post- and pre-sports. However, sportspeople and athletes, as well as medical professionals, are increasingly beginning to advocate for, the still controversial, THC in this context.

Despite the growing evidence to suggest the benefits of cannabis for athletes, the current ban on the drug would be understandable if there was any evidence whatsoever that cannabis and its derivatives are in some way performance-enhancing. However, after millennia of cannabis use in societies all around the globe, there is no such evidence.

In a climate where more people than ever before are finally feeling comfortable to discuss their cannabis use – whether medicinal or recreational – it should also be time to reconsider our approach to the plant with respect to sports and anti-doping guidelines as well.

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