Does cannabis act as a performance enhancer for sports people? You'd assume the answer might be yes given 100 meter sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson has been suspended from the US Olympic team for testing positive for cannabis psychoactive ingredient THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
However the scientific evidence doesn’t seem to support this being the case, which suggests anti-doping authorities are taking a moral /ideological stance against cannabis rather than an evidence-based ome
According to media reports, Richardson was using cannabis to help her deal with her mother's death. “I was definitely triggered and blinded by emotions, blinded by badness, and hurting, and hiding hurt,” she said on Today
But it was enough to get her banned from the biggest sporting event of her life.
So what does the scientific evidence say?
Though cannabinoids have been prohibited in all sports competitions by the World Anti-Doping Agency since 2004, two recent (2020) reviews again looked closely at this issue and concluded that there is in fact no evidence at all that cannabis is an ergogenic aid. One of these studies concluded the drug “does not act as a sport performance enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs.”
In fact, if anything, cannabis consumption prior to exercise may interfere with sports performance — as far back as 1986 as study found cyclists performed more poorly after using cannabinoids.
Interestingly, the Nevada State Athletic Commission just voted to lift a ban on boxers using the substance. They will now only be penalized if they are “impaired” on fight night judged as judged by a visual assessment.
There's an argument that whatever the validity or otherwise of a cannabis ban, athletes should expect to be penalised for not following the rules on banned substances, whatever they are. However over 500,000 have signed a petition to get Sha'Carri Richardson’s Olympic ban overturned
Such a u-turn is unlikely, but hopefully this outcry will at the very least stimulate a review of the science on this topic.