runners on a track with cannabis leaves in the foreground

The news of American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson receiving a ban and having her Olympic trial results erased after testing positive for marijuana has taken over the internet, social media, and news sites globally. Many were outraged to hear how the athlete would be forced to miss the Olympics due to the ban.The news also sparked heated debate over whether marijuana can be considered a performance-enhancing drug. Professional athletes such as professional skier and Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy weighed in with Kenworthy tweeting, “Marijuana isn’t a performance-enhancing drug, and it’s time for a change in policy if we’re going to dash people’s dreams over it.”

What the Science Says

Despite the lack of research and reputable studies on the effect marijuana use may have on athletic performance, studies have revealed that marijuana is not used as a performance-enhancing drug and has little to no scientifically-researched benefits on exercise, with the exception of recovery from an athletic industry.As recently as 2020, a research paper from the National Library of Medicine stated that cannabis “does not act as a sport performance-enhancing agent,”even going as far as recommending that athletes avoid cannabis consumption before exercise to improve their performance. The paper continued to reveal that results of cannabis consumption before cannabis reveal that it has a detrimental effect on performance and elicits undesired physiological responses such as increased heart and breathing rate and affecting balance. Unfortunately, scientific reports aren’t always enough to convince sports institutions.

Olympic Regulations and Other Sports Leagues

Marijuana, or THC to be specific, is not entirely banned for high-level athletes according to the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code. THC is banned from use in competitions for performance-enhancing reasons. This means that Olympic athletes may use marijuana under the current rules, but having THC in their system on the day of the competition does violate WADA rules and will result in the athlete’s suspension. Athletes can receive a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) if the cannabis has been prescribed by a medical professional and they submit the proper paperwork prior to being tested.The USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) is bound by WADA protocols and was forced to report Richardson’s test results, although recreational marijuana has been legalized in many states throughout the US.Other major sports leagues, particularly US-based ones like the NFL, are easing up on marijuana regulations and allowing athletes more leeway. Earlier this year, the NFL announced that it would no longer suspend players who test positive for marijuana consumption and that testing would be limited to the first two weeks of training.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

As the public stigma of marijuana use lessens and the legalization movement gains traction worldwide, many major sports leagues are likely to grow more open-minded and accept their players’ cannabis use. Additionally, sports leagues may even embrace the potential benefits cannabis brings to sports injury recovery. However, whether this will be enough to sway the WADA and cause them to change their policies remains to be seen.