As the smoke clears surrounding Sha'Carri Richardson positive test for THC, we are left with some key facts, some obvious assumptions and plethora of questions. Let’s start with the what we know…

The Positive Test  

Sha'Carri Richardson tested positive for THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis best known for delivering a euphoric high. However, many people are not aware of the complex way THC and the other 80 – 130 cannabinoids of terpenes, interact with the human endocannabinoid system to regulate mood, sleep, pain and host of other vital functions within the body. 

THC is on the World Anti-Doping Association prohibited list and can lead to disqualification from the Games if a positive test is returned.

Cannabis Was Consumed

Sha'Carri Richardson has been forthcoming with the reality of her cannabis consumption. Richardson has admitted to using a THC rich cannabis product, which is legal and readily available in Oregon, where the incident took place. She has indicated that the product was consumed following the tragic passing of her biological mother.

Sha'Carri Richardson Will Not Compete

At the time of writing, it appears that Sha'Carri Richardson will not be competing in the 2021 Olympic Games, due to the suspension she received for the positive THC results. This includes the solo event and the relay.

As a phenomenal athlete with an impactful appearance, the excitement around her Olympic debut has been gaining steady momentum globally. The Games are the highlight of the track and field calendar and the world was ready to see if “the next Usain Bolt” could steal the show in Tokyo. Given the competitive and patriotic nature of the Olympics, there were also many hoping to see their own country's athlete beat her to the finish line. In fact, the 21-year-old was expected to compete against Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in one of the most highly anticipated meets of the Olympic Games.

Fans and athletes alike are universally disappointed with a doping suspension. Doping is usually seen as “cheating”, and using performance enhancing drugs flies in the face of everything we love about sports, competition and the Olympic Games. However, there has been something unique about this particular suspension that may offer some insights into the changing perception of cannabis and how it should be viewed in sports, medicine and free society. 

Broadly speaking, there appears to be two camps:

  1. “Let Her Run”:  These are the people who acknowledge that taking cannabis, medicinal or recreational, is broadly accepted as a part of an adult’s daily life.  They don’t believe it provides an undeserved advantage in competitive sports but generally believe it does provide support in physical and/or mental recovery.
  2. “Rules Are Rules”:  The reality is, THC is prohibited.  For many, this is reason enough to suspend someone and the 'lack of advantage' in a moot point. This school of though has even echo the halls of the White House, with President Biden making remarks to this nature, while also adding “Whether they should remain the rules is a different issue.”

What is most interesting, is that the majority of athletes, regulators, politicians and sports fan all agree that Richardson ‘broke the rules’ rather than ‘cheated’ (i.e. breaking the rules to gain an unfair advantage). Hence, there are some broad assumptions we can make from the tone of the discussion.

Cannabis is no longer taboo

For most people engaged in the discussion, the belief that cannabis provides an unfair physical advantage to athletes is broadly rejected. Perhaps, this is somewhat due to the decades of propaganda labelling cannabis consumers as lazy stoners”, which doesn't align with olympic level athletes who are known for their discipline and commitment.

It’s considered essential

Furthermore, coming out of the 2020 lock-downs, many major cities around the world listed cannabis as an 'essential item'.  Dispensaries around the world remained open and even more restrictive countries such as Australia, experienced exponential growth in medicinal cannabis patients. As such, we can assume that the public increasingly see cannabis as a medicine/supplement that is part of adult daily life.

We Want To Move On

Universally, the response from both camps is disappointment. We all love the Olympics because it showcases the best of the best in the sporting arena. The athletes that have dedicated their lives to their chosen sport exemplify what it means to live one’s passion. Given the nature of this suspension, even those who agree with it, appear to be concerned with a broken rule, not a broken ethic.

Takeaway

Unfortunately, we will not see Sha'Carri Richardson compete at the 2021 Olympic Games. As a young lady, her dreams are far from over. She has, however, left us community of sports fans, and professional athletes, with many unanswered questions:

  • What is a detectable amount of THC?
  • How long does it stay in one’s system?
  • Can CBD products result in trace THC being picked up on a test?
  • Why are we still testing for THC anyway? (many professional organisations have moved away)
  • Is the “lazy stoner” one of the most inaccurate stereotypes in history?
  • When will politicians and regulatory bodies catch up to the science and culture and just #makeitlegal?