It’s no secret: athletes and cannabis have a long history together. But at sports’ highest tiers of performance, cannabis has long been a prohibited substance.
But with the sea change in how the world sees cannabis and its various natural compounds known as cannabinoids, are we set for a change?
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is the first time in modern Olympic history where athletes have been vocal about their use of cannabis compounds for their training regimen. And while cannabidiol (CBD) seems to be fair game, the same can’t be said for all cannabis compounds.
Here’s the run-down on CBD, THC, cannabis, athletes, and cannabis at the 2020 Tokyo games.
The Olympic Games and Cannabis: Prohibition and Reform
Cannabis and its compounds have long been prohibited substances for many professional athletes, including those participating in the Olympic games.
Considering the stereotypical “stoned” feeling often associated with weed, it’s somewhat odd that cannabis would be banned as a supposedly “performance-enhancing drug”. And while that is sometimes touted as the reason, it may just be that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is acting as the Virtue Police by protecting the youth from supposedly bad role models who defy “the spirit of sport”.
But a 2017 change to WADA policy opened up one of cannabis’s compounds for athletes’ use: CBD. And following that lead, the Tokyo Olympic Games are the first ever modern Olympics to permit any form of cannabis compound — even if all other non-CBD cannabinoids are still verboten.
And it’s no surprise that athletes are embracing it. Few Olympians are speaking out about it, but the number of top athletes embracing CBD as part of their workout and recovery regimen is ever-growing.
Olympic Athletes Using CBD
Because the Olympics only recently began permitting CBD use, the number of athletes openly using CBD is still slim. While it’s almost certain that many more have made CBD a part of their workout and recovery routine, only a few have stepped up to become ambassadors for CBD and sport.
Among the Tokyo Olympic athletes using CBD are men’s track and field hurdler Devon Allen, women’s basketball four-time gold medalist Sue Bird, softball outfielder Haylie McCleney, and (perhaps most outspokenly) women’s soccer phenom Megan Rapinoe.
Due to inconsistent international laws, most of these athletes claim that they are not actually using CBD at the Olympic games. After all, the cannabis plants from which CBD is derived are still stigmatized, and criminal penalties for possessing cannabis-based products are often draconian, including in Japan, where this year’s Olympic games are taking place.
However, several of these athletes describe CBD as an indispensable part of their training and recovery regimen and a staple of their athletic routine when locally permissible. Here are some of the benefits that they describe for athletes and cannabis.
The Benefits of CBD For Athletes
The benefits of CBD for athletes are wide-ranging and numerous, affecting both workouts themselves, recovery, and pre-performance state of mind.
In a recent Forbes interview, Rapinoe commented on her own CBD use. “CBD has become part of my all-natural recovery system that I use throughout the day to help with pain and inflammation, stabilize my mood and get better sleep.”
Her account is echoed by virtually all CBD-friendly athletes and cannabis connoisseurs alike. By all accounts, CBD benefits athletes by assisting in:
- Pain management
- Workout recovery
- Anxiety, stress, and mood
- Better sleep
- Diet and appetite control
For more on this topic, see our Guide to CBD for Athletes.
With the growing mass of athletes using CBD to improve their focus, aid in workout recovery, and manage the pain from inflammation, joint injuries, and more, it’s certain that we’ll be hearing a lot more from athletes and cannabis compounds like CBD.
“The Spirit of Sport”: Cannabis Bans and Controversy at the 2020 Olympics
With the growing number of top-athletes openly supporting CBD, the future for athletes and cannabis looks bright. But the Olympics have a long and storied history of cracking down on cannabis use in athletes in a misguided attempt to protect the “spirit of sport”.
Most recently, runner Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from the Tokyo games after testing positive for THC, the intoxicating cannabinoids most prevalent in marijuana.
Richardson’s ban has caused controversy. Next to many athletes’ open use of CBD, some fans have even alleged that Richardson’s (a black woman) ban was racially motivated.
But the International Olympic Committee argues that they are bound by current IOC rules, and that cannabis has historically been banned because its use is “not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world”.
Richardson is far from the only Olympian to be penalized for cannabis use:
- In 2009, swimmer Michael Phelps was banned from competition for three months following photos of him smoking marijuana leaked online.
- In 2006, US sprinter John Capel tested positive for a second time and was banned for two years.
- Before WADA’s prohibited drug list, the IOC took back snowboarder Ross Rebagliati’s gold medal after he tested positive. A court later found no rule against cannabis use for athletes and had his medal returned.
But the times, they are a’changin’. Richardson’s ban has shined a spotlight on the need for IOC to reform its cannabis policy. Moreover, the public outcry that resulted is lighting a fire under the IOC to modernize its policies and get on board with the growing body of research that says cannabis for athletes should not be banned.