Deprivation Binge

Sha’Carri Richardson Deserves So Much Better Than This Bullsh*t

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I live in Vancouver, Washington, right across the river from Portland, Oregon. Where I live, recreational cannabis has been legal and widely available in specialized retail settings since 2014. It’s exceedingly normal. Banal, even. There are weed storefronts dotted around the city, and occasionally you see weed-related litter, but aside from that, not much has changed about life in the Pacific Northwest.

This is all to say that whenever I see the old regime poking its head out of the ground and doing its stupid little dance, I just roll my eyes. Who is this even protecting? What are you fighting for? Civilization isn’t falling apart around us as we head into the seventh year of legalized recreational cannabis retail. It’s really very sad that you’re grasping at this straw.

The latest dumb story about weed comes from the world of Olympic Track and Field. American Sha’Carri Richardson, a sprinter who was a favorite in the 100-meter dash, tested positive for THC, a compound in cannabis. She’s been suspended from track events for 30 days, jeopardizing her appearance at the Tokyo Olympics later this month. On Friday, she appeared on Good Morning America and explained that she’d smoked some weed after a reporter had informed her during an interview that her biological mother had died, days before the Olympic trials.

“I was just thinking it would be a normal interview,” said Richardson, who is 21. “But to hear that information coming from a complete stranger, it was definitely triggering, it was definitely nerve-shocking… I know I can’t hide myself, so… in some type of way, I was trying to hide my pain.”

Now you might be asking: “Why? Who gives a damn if a grown woman smokes weed in Oregon, a state where it’s legal and widely available?” Well, the World Anti-Doping Agency—WADA for short—has banned the use of cannabis among athletes under its purview. “Doping” is typically the word enforcement institutions use for performance-enhancing methods like anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and artificially boosting the blood’s ability to bring more oxygen to muscles, so how exactly would cannabis fall under this? Well, WADA’s answer to this query is breathtakingly stupid:

For something to be added to the WADA Prohibited List, it must meet two of the three inclusion criteria: a) it poses a health risk to athletes b) it has the potential to enhance performance and c) it violates the spirit of sport.

In 2011, WADA published a paper in Sports Medicine discussing the reasons marijuana and cannabinoids meet the criteria. Below are excerpts from this publication that address the three criteria:

  1. “Athletes who smoke cannabis or Spice in competition potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.”
  2. “Based on current animal and human studies as well as on interviews with athletes and information from the field, cannabis can be performance enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.”
  3. “Use of illicit drugs that are harmful to health and that may have performance-enhancing properties is not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world.

I’ve followed sports for a while now, and am not familiar with any incident where someone was stoned and, lacking proper judgment, opted to lift their opponent high in the air and then break them over their knee as Bane did to Batman. I don’t think I’ve even heard of someone getting baked and rolling their ankle.

As far as Young People are concerned, they’ll be fine. Adults, including parents, smoke where I live and the local children have not become feral monsters roaming the streets. Teaching kids about what constitutes substance abuse is the priority of parents, not athletes who they don’t know.

Sha’Carri Richardson reacts after competing in the first round of the Women’s 100 Meter during day one of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 18, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon.

Steph Chambers/Getty

So, reasons one and three are dumb as hell. That brings us to reason two, which is maybe the most baffling of all. Who can possibly reason that weed, the official plant of chilling on the couch and binge-watching Netflix, is a rip-roaring, performance-enhancing, supercharged cannon that turns everyone who uses it into Michael Jordan? I consulted the paper WADA cites:

Cannabis is often portrayed as a substance that has detrimental effects on performance. Cannabis decreases coordination, distorts spatial perception and alters perception and awareness of the passage of time. Steadward and Singh found that cannabis smoking did not increase vital capacity or grip strength, and Renaud and Cormier found maximal exercise performance in 12 cyclists reduced from 16 to 15 minutes at 10 minutes after smoking a THC 1.7% cigarette. However, in this study vasodilation and bronchodilation were increased, suggesting that cannabis could also improve oxygenation to the tissues. Furthermore, hotlines developed in support of doped athletes report performance-enhancing capabilities (WADA, unpublished observations). Cannabis is presented as a drug that has significant positive effects in sports, such as improvement of vision for goalkeepers and muscle relaxation.

Right off the bat, they admit that weed clearly makes you worse at sports. Then they argue that it may increase blood flow, which could, in a drastically different context, make you better at sports. Also, apparently, goalies are calling a hotline all the time and telling WADA that smoking weed makes them better at seeing, according to “unpublished observations”? This is all moot, of course, because better vision wouldn’t be all that useful if you also had drastically reduced motor function, which, in case you haven’t heard, cannabis causes. Really, really bad argument, scientific paper funded by WADA. But hey, maybe it gets more reasonable?

Catlin and Murray indicated that cannabis could be performance enhancing in sports that require greater concentration. Iven noted that athletes use cannabis for relief of anxiety and stress, and perhaps to reduce muscle spasm. Saugy et al. suggested that athletes were mainly motivated to use cannabis due to its effects on relaxation and well-being, promoting better sleep.

To summarize: “Weed can help with anxiety and recovery, which is, when you think about it, performance enhancing, just like the famous PED Zoloft, which athletes all over the world abuse for the superhuman abilities it gives them.” It’s interesting that WADA mentions this, because again, Richardson claims that her positive test came from using marijuana to relieve anxiety after the death of her birth mother, which she found out about when a reporter mentioned it during an interview. (Separate concern, but sports reporters really need to learn how to deal with athletes without jeopardizing their mental health.)

She isn’t the first athlete to get hustled out of her sport for using weed to deal with her anxiety. Ricky Williams, a Heisman Trophy winner and a star NFL running back in the early aughts, was repeatedly suspended by the league for imbibing to deal with depression and social anxiety—social anxiety that can be a killer when you are a pro athlete who has to deal with people in an extraordinarily intense environment all the time. Williams continues to advocate for athletes who use, and markets his own line of cannabis products.

The NFL recently agreed to stop suspending players for marijuana use in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. In case you’re keeping score, this means that WADA and the IOC are behind the NFL on their marijuana rules. The NFL! Can you imagine if you looked at yourself in the mirror one day and realized you were more regressive about something, anything, than the National Football League?

And yet, WADA and the IOC chose to suspend…

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