MARIJUANA AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
It’s been one week since news broke that Sha’Carri Richardson, the Olympics-bound American sprinter, tested positive for marijuana following the women’s 100-meter race at the U.S. track & field trials. The 21-year-old athlete had secured her spot on the U.S. Olympic team after she won the race with a time of 10.86 seconds, but the victory was no longer valid after testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main ingredient found in marijuana.
Richardson was suspended from the sport for one month because the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee follows rules set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and WADA prohibits the use of cannabinoids (hashish, marijuana, and cannabis products). Unfortunately, this timeline disqualified Richardson from competing in Tokyo later this summer.
Even though legalization and views differ from state to state in the U.S., the drug is currently the most commonly used illegal substance at the national level. WADA also currently bans marijuana – along with other drugs – that have been “frequently abused in society outside of the context of sport.”
Quick facts about marijuana use
Recent national data revealed that 48.2 million Americans – or 17.5% of the population – used cannabis in 2019. Of this number, 4.8 million reported having a marijuana use disorder. For this reason, and contrary to popular belief, marijuana is in fact addictive.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted, and that number rises to 1 in 6 if the individual begins using before they turn 18.
How does marijuana affect your body?
When an individual uses marijuana, THC travels through the bloodstream and connects to cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells, resulting in a “high.” The chemical also affects the part of the brain that controls memory, concentration, pleasure, and coordination. The immediate effects after using the drug can be loss of coordination, difficulty thinking, and distorted perception.
There are not many studies that prove marijuana enhances athletic performance. There is more evidence that THC negatively affects hand-eye coordination, concentration, and endurance. However, WADA reported that cannabis can be performance enhancing because it can help some athletes relax and focus before competition, which could impact results.
In Richardson’s case, her winning time of 10.86 seconds at the U.S. track & field trials wasn’t her fastest time this year. She ran the same distance in April in 10.72 seconds, which happens to be the sixth-fastest time in history.
Still, WADA defended its anti-doping values when it comes to marijuana affecting the health of athletes who compete on the world stage. The use of marijuana does pose a health risk to anyone abusing the drug.
The health risks of using marijuana
Individuals who smoke marijuana regularly can experience breathing problems, lung infections, and even increase their risk of lung cancer – similar to those who smoke tobacco. Marijuana raises heart rate, and therefore increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke.
The amount of THC in marijuana also has increased in the last 25 years, which have an even greater impact on the brain and might also increase its addictive tendencies. Therefore, using higher potency cannabis can lead to cannabis-induced psychosis.
There are several long-term risks of becoming addicted to or dependent on marijuana, as well. These include:
- Permanent IQ loss
- Negatively affecting mental health (depression, anxiety, psychotic episodes)
- Harmed athletic performance, specifically coordination
- Impacting pregnancy (fetal growth restriction, premature birth, stillbirth, stunted brain development)
- Affecting quality of life (relationships, career, and educational problems and reduced satisfaction with life)
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