In June of 2021, US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was barred from competing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for cannabis usage. She was set to compete as one of the top contenders in the highly anticipated 100-meter race. Richardson attributed her cannabis use to the recent, untimely loss of her mother.
Her disqualification has been the topic of discussion surrounding Olympic cannabis policies for the past few weeks.
The United States Anit-Doping Agency (USADA) supports, and is a signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code. The code was recently updated in January of this year from the previous 2015 version, reading “All natural and synthetic cannabinoids are prohibited In-competition.” Cannabidiol (CBD) usage is permitted with a warning of trace amounts resulting in positive anti-doping tests. The policy has raised questions and concerns regarding double standards and the usage of cannabis by Olympic competitors.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) are both derived from the marijuana plant. Both compounds share the same molecular structure, consisting of 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The only difference between the two (and the reason for contrast in physical effects) is the way they bind to cannabinoid receptors located in the brain. THC binds with cannabinoid 1 (CB1), causing psychoactive effects, or the physical “high.” CBD does not bind strongly with cannabinoid receptors, and therefore does not produce the same sensations as THC.
The Olympics have recently come under fire for allowing US women’s soccer forward, Megan Rapinoe, to compete while Richardson has to miss the competition. The athlete has been criticized for promoting her brand, Mendi, and her own personal CBD use. Rapinoe penned a letter to Forbes recently, stating that she does not like pain management medication an has instead “almost exclusively substituted [them] with Mendi CBD products.”
Some believe the Olympics banning Richardson from sprinting while allowing Rapinoe to compete is a racist gesture (In April the International Olympic Committee reinforced it’s rule against “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda, prohibiting athletes from wearing Black lives Matters shirts). Rapinoe previously supported Richardson, and has tweeted out her support saying, “this is trash. Standing with @itskerrii. This has BEEN outdated.” She has also been vocal in her opinion about unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for competing athletes.
This is trash. Standing with @itskerrii 💯. This has BEEN outdated.— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) July 2, 2021
While Richardson is the latest to be scrutinized for marijuana usage, this is not the first time an athlete has been barred from competing due to testing positive for cannabis usage. US sprinter, John Carpel tested positive in 2006 and was banned from competing. In 2009, US swimmer Michael Phelps was banned for three months after leaked photos of him smoking appeared online. While the athletes usually have to watch from the sidelines momentarily, they typically return to the sport. Carpel returned to competing in 2008. Phelps returned to Olympic competition in 2012.
In wake of her “scandal,” Richardson has received an endorsement offer in the amount of $250 thousand dollars. While se is unable to compete this year, she has expressed an interest in returning to the competition in the future. In the meantime, she can kick her feet up and weigh out her options.