The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will likely keep cannabis on its banned substances list, even after public outcry over Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension from the 2021 Winter Olympics.
According to the Wall Street Journal, WADA’s draft proposal for 2023 maintains cannabis and its compounds as prohibited drugs.
“The draft 2023 Prohibited List is still under consideration,” a WADA spokesperson said. “WADA’s Executive Committee will be asked to approve the final version of the List during its 23 September meeting, with the List itself being published on or before 1 October and coming into force on 1 January.”
The controversy largely stems from cannabis policies shifting dramatically in US states and even entire countries. Several nations which participate in the Olympics, such as Canada, Venezuela, and Malta have legalized the plant for adult-use at the federal levels.
Several US politicians, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the US Anti-Doping Agency requested that WADA perform a scientific review for cannabis after the Richardson case. It now appears WADA is sticking to its policies, after all.
Debate became further inflamed in December 2021, when Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for trimetazidine. Trimetazidine is a drug often used for treating angina, but it can also push the human heart to work much harder than it normally does.
Valieva was ultimately not banned from competing, even though trimetazidine -- unlike cannabis -- is banned at all times, inside and outside of competition. Richardson and her supporters suggested racism was at play to keep Valieva in the games, as Valieva is Caucasian.
Sha’Carri Richardson, an up-and-coming track star, tested positive for THC during the Tokyo Olympics trials in June 2021. She said she consumed a state-legal cannabis edible shortly after her mother’s death, and that she was not intoxicated during the actual trials.
THC, the compound in cannabis which causes its characteristic high, is stored in body fat. A person can test positive for THC weeks or even months after consuming it, long after the elevating effects have worn off.
WADA also stated that the agency views cannabis as having a “negative impact on athletic performance,” which further muddies the entire issue. Typically, substances are banned for enhancing athletic performance. So, it makes no sense to ban weed if it does the opposite.
Ironically, WADA has insisted US policies were largely to blame for the cannabis ban. Last year, an agency spokesperson said the cannabis ban has been upheld after multiple challenges because of pressure from the US Anti-Doping Agency.
While cannabis may not enhance athletic performance, it can help with alleviating injuries and anxieties related to intense physical training. Although WADA and the Olympics changed their cannabis policies to allow competitors to consume while not competing or in trials, the current ban means athletes must rely on approved pharmaceuticals, such as certain steroids and addictive opioid painkillers, to deal with injuries.