Let Sha’Carri Richardson run. Stop testing for cannabis

Dr Scott E. Hadland

Friday, a star American sprinter, Sha’Carri Richardson, was banned from participating in its flagship Olympic event, the women’s 100 meters. His offense? Test positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. Although Richardson’s drug test was obtained in Oregon, where Olympic trials were held and where recreational cannabis use by adults is legal, the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency require that she be suspended from competition for at least one month.

Sha’Carri Richardson and other athletes who use cannabis should be allowed to compete. Professional athletes shouldn’t be tested for cannabis in the first place. US Olympic Committee should exert considerable influence and remove cannabis from the World Anti-Doping Agency list of prohibited substances.

Many of us on the banned substances list – including me, an addict doctor – have found ourselves scratching our heads at the seemingly archaic World Anti-Doping Agency rules on cannabis. The Agency classifies substances as “prohibited” if they meet two of the three Criteria – that the substance improves performance, presents a risk to the health of the athlete or violates the “spirit of sport”. I claim that cannabis does not meet this definition.

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Cannabis does not help performance

Unlike other prohibited substances like anabolic and stimulant steroids, cannabis does not improve performance. In fact, cannabis use can lead to short-term coordination deficits that could arguably to get worse performance.

On the other hand, heavy cannabis use among young people is associated with a risk of mental health problems such as psychosis. Since many athletes are adolescents or young adults like Richardson, the agency’s second criterion – that a substance poses a risk to the health of the athlete – is likely met.

“Living case study”:Why I entered the medical marijuana industry after retiring from the NFL

However, it seems unlikely that cannabis use violates the spirit of sport, which the World Anti-Doping Agency defines as “the ethical pursuit of human excellence through the dedicated perfection of the natural talents of every athlete.” The use of a substance that causes little or no harm when used recreationally, infrequently and safely in the privacy of an adult does not, in my opinion, meet this test. At a minimum, it can be said that cannabis does not meet the Agency’s criteria any more than any other substance ostensibly. do not not allowed: alcohol.

There are other arguments against banning athletes who consume cannabis. Testing urine for drugs is a tricky science. The tests can be loaded with false positives – cases in which a person tests positive but has never used the substance, which could happen if, for example, an athlete eats a food product that contains hemp. Testing can also result in false negatives, which occur when an athlete has used a substance but the test has missed it.

Cannabis is also slow to get rid of the body. Unlike many other “water soluble” substances such as stimulants which are eliminated from the body within one to three days, tetrahydrocannbinol is a fat soluble substance which is excreted more slowly and generally takes a week to disappear from the urine. . In people who use cannabis more frequently, complete elimination can take up to a month. In other words, an athlete who tests positive for cannabis may not have used cannabis for weeks.

Because of these complications, urine drug tests should only be done by a qualified expert. Presumably, Richardson’s drug test has been interpreted by professionals. However, many amateur athletes banned from sports for the use of cannabis are denied this opportunity, with the interpretation left to coaches, school officials and local sports organizations.

Changing your perspective on cannabis use

I highly doubt Richardson has any cannabis use disorder. But imagine another athlete doing it. Cannabis use disorder, a condition in which a person has persistent and compulsive cannabis use despite negative life consequences, is a medical diagnosis that affected nearly 5 million Americans in 2019.

Suspending an athlete with a cannabis use disorder from competition is contrary to what we should do when someone is struggling with substances. Suspensions amount to a punishment, which is usually ineffective in the management of addiction. The right approach is to engage someone in the treatment of cannabis use disorders and, if safe to do so, allow an athlete to continue competing. This approach is not only compassionate, but also likely to support the athlete. Mental Health and speed up their recovery.

Cannabis reform? Now is the right time for full federal legalization

Some might argue that bans on cannabis in sports could play an important public health role in deterring young athletes from using drugs. Data to support this claim, however, are lacking. Many young athletes that I work with as a doctor stop using cannabis when they plan to be tested and use it at other times. In other words, drug tests change when – not if – they use substances. Conversely, I have seen many young people suffer harm by being withdrawn from activities they enjoy because they use cannabis.

National sentiment is changing on cannabis. The substance is legal for recreational use in 19 states and almost two thirds of Americans support these policies. It is time for international, national, state and local sports watchdog agencies to stop punishing athletes for using a substance which, when used infrequently, causes little harm, offers no competitive advantage, and should not be tested in the first place.

Let Sha’Carri Richardson compete.

Dr Scott Hadland is the new chief of adolescent medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School.

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