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Sha’Carri Richardson, Olympians and Weed

08/4/2021

Sha’Carri Richardson sought to carry the mantle as America’s fastest woman to the Olympics. Watching her win the qualifying race in the women’s 100-meter was witnessing true greatness. Her vivid hair streamed behind her like the Olympic flame, and her sparkling personality caught the attention of sports fans everywhere. Richardson was a beacon of hope for another gold for Team USA.

sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson wins a race photo courtesy of AP News

photo courtesy of APNews.com

Richardson embraced her grandmother after the run. Viewers learned that she had lost her biological mother about a week before the team trial. Raised by her grandmother, Richardson learned about her mother’s death from a reporter during an interview. Richardson called this triggering and “definitely nerve-shocking.”

“It sent me into a state of emotional panic,” she said, adding, “I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.” The Olympic trials Richardson competed in were in Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal.

Richardson won her race but then tested positive for THC, the main active component of cannabis. She admitted to having used marijuana after finding out about the death of her mother. As a result, Richardson received a 30-day suspension from the competition on June 28. She will not compete with Team USA at the Olympics in Tokyo.

Not only does it seem cruel to punish an athlete for smoking weed, but knowing that marijuana is not in the ‘performance-enhancing’ category seems to add even more on top of it. It seems like (is?) an outdated stance on marijuana.

Coping with Struggles

Richardson is not only an elite athlete – she’s a complex human being. Her legal marijuana use helped her get through an intense personal crisis.

“I am human,” Richardson said. “Who am I to tell you how to cope when you’re dealing with a pain… Who am I to tell you you’re wrong for hurting?”

Emotional pain is real pain. Richardson is not the only athlete to have used cannabis to deal with emotional or physical pain. Many have found that cannabis is a better treatment with fewer side effects for many painful conditions. However, elite U.S. athletes can’t pursue these effective treatments if they want to compete.

Richardson proved she was the best runner to represent the United States. Outdated and misinformed policies regarding marijuana usage for athletes at any level need to be changed so that Sha’carri Richardson and others like her will be able to seek their preferred treatment and still compete.

Olympic History

In ancient Greece, the first Olympians competed in the nude to show that they weren’t carrying anything that could provide an unfair advantage – and to prevent women from joining events intended only for men.

In modern times, it has become routine to test the blood of elite athletes. Since the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, many Olympians have tested positive for everything from speed to testosterone. Anabolic steroids and stimulants have been banned because they increase the energy and performance of athletes.

The five ring symbol of the Olympic Games and view of the New National Stadium under construction for Tokyo Olympic 2020

A routine blood test found THC in Richardson’s blood. Though marijuana is not considered a performance-enhancing drug, it is still prohibited by the United States Anti-Doping Agency as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Performance Enhanced?

In April 2021, Richardson posted a new personal best of 10.72 seconds, for the 100-meter. This made her the sixth-fastest woman of all time and the fourth-fastest American woman in history. Her time at the Olympic trials, while still the best in that race, was a tiny fraction slower.

Marijuana as a performance enhancer hasn’t been studied rigorously, but there is some evidence that it can help athletes relax and focus. In a 2011 paper, WADA stated “cannabis can be performance-enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.” But it can also negatively affect concentration, hand-eye coordination, and endurance.

picture of a female athlete with a large marijuana leave covering her face to sympbolize marijuana use in sports

WADA says that athletes who ingest cannabis “potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk-taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.” WADA also considers the image of cannabis, saying that the “use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world.”

The result of this assessment is deadly serious for athletes. They can be suspended for up to two years for testing positive for cannabis. The athlete must also complete a substance abuse program.

Changes for the Future

The people are speaking up to protest Richardson’s absence from the U.S. Olympic team. Almost 600,000 have signed the “Let Sha’Carri Run!” petition online.

Sha’Carri Richardson has been offered $250,000 to be a brand ambassador for Dr. Dabber, a vape company. Whether or not she accepts this or other offers, she has strong support from many, including rule-following President Joe Biden. “The rules are the rules and everybody knows what the rules were going in,” Biden said. “Whether they should remain the rules is a different issue… but I was really proud of the way she responded.”

man applying oil made from cannabis extract over injured shoulder, medical pain treatment

Biden’s point about whether these rules should remain in place is a compelling question for athletes and the governing bodies that judge who can go to the Olympics. Countries like Canada and Mexico have already legalized cannabis use. As more and more U.S. states, and even the U.S. federal government, have come to the brink of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, the world of sports must come to a reckoning.

It’s probably too late for Sha’Carri Richardson’s dreams of gold, at least for this Olympics. We can only hope that her dreams of victory will be realized and that her story will help persuade many that the time for change is now.

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