Cannabis, sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency

Mar 17, 2022 | Blogs, Cannabis, Food / Beverage, Food and Beverage, Forensic | 0 comments

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We’ve all heard about the doping scandal that shocked the cycling world at the 1998 Tour de France, right? Well, because of that scandal, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) arranged a World Conference on Doping that brought together all parties involved in the fight against doping. The Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport1 was adopted by the conference in February 1999 and included a call for an international anti-doping agency to be operational for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)2 was established in November 1999 to answer that call.

WADA is composed and funded equally by sports organizations and governments across the world, and its key activities include scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code,3 which is a standardized set of rules for all sports and countries. WADA was set up as a foundation under the initiative of the IOC with the support and participation of intergovernmental organizations, governments, public authorities and other public and private bodies that fight doping in sports.

When it comes to cannabis, marijuana is still banned globally in most professional sports and in the Olympics.4,5 Based on this ban, US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo after testing positive for marijuana.6 Let’s take a look at how cases like this affect the global legalization of cannabis and the decisions made by WADA.

Richardson suspension amidst global cannabis legalization

After testing positive for a chemical found in marijuana, Richardson was banned from competing in the 2021 Olympics.6 But how much longer will marijuana be considered a performance-enhancing drug, and might WADA remove it from its list of banned substances?

Times are changing as countries move toward some form of marijuana legalization and cannabis imports and exports on a global scale. The notion that marijuana is as harmful as narcotics and has the potential to improve physical capabilities might be antiquated, and scientific studies are ongoing to assess this notion.

Many global authorities are conducting extensive regulatory reviews of marijuana for medical and nonmedical access. Cannabis has the potential to impact the health of athletes as well as their performance in both training and in competition. Scientific research on these potential effects aims to identify the challenges related to elite athletic performance, and pinpoint important research areas that still need to be addressed.

Research findings indicate that while cannabis is more prevalent in some athletes, there is no direct evidence of performance-enhancing effects in those athletes.7 So, could we see cannabis removed from the banned substance list across global sports?

The future of cannabis legalization in sport

The suspension of Richardson from the 2021 Olympics resulted in widespread confusion over why marijuana is considered a performance-enhancing drug. In response to this confusion and several requests submitted by stakeholders, WADA is due to review its cannabis ban. However, WADA has reiterated that cannabis will remain forbidden for the 2022 athletic season.7

Only time will tell whether the mass outrage at Richardson’s suspension prompted WADA to go through the motions of reviewing its marijuana ban to appease public opinion or whether revisiting the ban reflects a shift in thinking about marijuana as a performance-enhancing drug. If delta-9 THC from marijuana isn’t banned, could the legal delta-8 be the new psychoactive product of choice for athletes? Or even delta-10? Does WADA even differentiate between those two isomers? We’ll keep an eye on these and other developments in the cannabis world.

Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts. Are you for or against removing cannabis from the banned substance list, and do you think it’ll happen?


  1. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport.
  2. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Who We Are.
  3. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The World Anti-Doping Code.
  4. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The Prohibited List.
  5. US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Marijuana FAQ: Your Questions Answered.
  6. Sha’Carri Richardson left off US relay team, dashing last hope for Olympics. The Guardian, July 6, 2021.

Ware M. A. et al. Cannabis and the Health and Performance of the Elite Athlete. Clin J Sport Med. 2018, 28(5), 480–484.


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Senior Applications Scientist, SCIEX. Diana Tran specializes in LC-MS/MS method development as an applications scientist at SCIEX. For the past 4 years, she has been actively involved in cannabis testing analysis and has had a hand in almost every cannabis method developed at SCIEX since then. Diana has been field tested in testing labs across the US, making connections in cannabis testing labs and acting as a resource for analytical chemists. She is always looking for new cannabuds—feel free to reach out and start a conversation.



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