Despite the recent wave of Cannabis legalization and decriminalization that swept the world like a tidal wave (whether medicinal or recreational use), the plant is still susceptible to scandal in the public sphere. More often than not, it’s a scandal surrounding prominent figures in our society and weed. More specifically, the scandal takes the form of the politician who exudes hypocrisy with a past of smoking cannabis while advocating for its criminality. Understandably, this strikes a chord in our collective consciousness for indignation. But the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games presented a fascinating scandal that’s worth unpacking and discussing with depth and open-mindedness.
Sha’carri Richardson, the 21-year-old American track and field star, faced a one-month suspension from the US Anti-Doping Agency (read in-depth, see Sha’carri Richardson & The War on Drugs). But long before Richardson, we’ve been privy to a scandal surrounding athletes and their personal consumption of cannabis.
But what is unique about the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is the sheer number of participating countries who, after considering GDP, Job Growth, and Medicinal Potential, have now successfully decriminalized or legalized cannabis in one way, shape or form.
And, as a globalized world on a trajectory of further integration with one another, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. So, when it comes to international sporting events, how do we balance inclusivity with rational edicts against cannabis — edicts meant to foster equality amongst players?
Underlying the commotion are two arguments against athletes consuming cannabis, outlined below.
The Role Model Argument
Athletes are prominent figures in the public eye. They are heroes in their own right, pushing the envelope of human capabilities. To young adults and children hoping to achieve that level of excellence, athletes are role models. Understandably, parents worry about the impressionability of their children when it comes to imitating their heroes.
It’s understandable when it comes to children imitating the destructive or detrimental habits of their heroes. Otherwise, does a young swimmer’s parent really care if Michael Phelps drinks a glass of wine with his lunch?
With the advent of legalization, the psychological data is slowly starting to compile against the myth of weed being a gateway drug.
The Unfair Advantage Argument
Under the unfair advantage to athletes consuming cannabis argument, most anti-doping agencies look at pain sensibility, psychological superiority and stimulant effects.
Anyone who has tried cannabis can attest to the anti-stimulant effects of smoking the plant — at least physically, not cerebrally (THC can be a great creativity booster). Unlike caffeine and other socially acceptable stimulants, cannabis offers no physical stimulation worth noting in an athletic context.
Psychological superiority is something worth noting. To compete at such a high level of sportsmanship and competition, on a platform like the Olympics no less, where the world’s piercing eyes are eager and anticipating your next move, presents a psychological challenge. Athletic excellence is as much mental fortitude as it is physical. So, the calming effects of smoking cannabis can potentially ameliorate some of the rough edges of stage fright, namely tension and anxiety. However, so do other socially accepted substances such as green tea, Ginkgo Biloba, L-theanine and more. Holding cannabis to that standard dictates that we also hold the rest to that same standard; rationally and without bias.
Pain management is an extrapolation of the psychological superiority argument. Whereby an athlete’s sensation and experience of pain is lessened, thereby allowing them to perform at that extra, unfair level. So far, there is no science differentiating the use of CBD for pain management specifically from using painkillers. In fact, the medical community champions CBD as an alternative to pain killers for its non-addictive qualities.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis in the Olympics
All that said, the use of cannabis for athletic advantage goes against the majority of people’s common experience of the plant and — by extension — common sense. The myth that cannabis is some elixir creating the Great Olympian is just that — A myth.
What do you think about athletes consuming cannabis ? Do you have more arguments for or against it? Join the conversation and let us know in the comment section.