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More research needed on athletes and marijuana, says specialist

EUGENE, OREGON - JUNE 19: Sha'Carri Richardson celebrates winning the Women's 100 Meter final on day 2 of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 19, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — When sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended from competing in the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana, a new conversation emerged on the use of cannabis when it comes to athletes in competition. 

Athletes and marijuana a hot topic

Richardson said the recent death of her biological mother, combined with Olympic preparation stress, led her to use marijuana.

“I know I can’t hide myself, so in some type of way, I was trying to hide my pain,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show. “This is just one Games. I’m 21. I’m very young. . . . I have plenty of Games left in me to compete in, and I have plenty of talent that backs me up.”

18 states and the District of Columbia permit the recreational use of cannabis. An April 2021 Pew poll found national support at 91% for the medical use of marijuana. 

Read more: “Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for recreational or medical use” 

This map shows the legal/illegal status of cannabis by states.

Tim Pickett, PA-C, a licensed medical provider at Utah Therapeutic Health Center, joined Dave & Dujanovic on KSL NewsRadio Thursday to give his advice on athletes using marijuana.

Pros and cons of cannabis for athletes

Program host Dave Noriega, who spent much of his career covering sports, suggested most people would consider marijuana way down the list when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. Pickett agreed.

“The reputation that marijuana has is you’re going to be sitting on the couch watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” eating popcorn, right? You’re not going to be sprinting 100 meters, breaking world records or competing at the highest level,” Pickett said.

He added that research indicates marijuana may reduce the use of painkillers such as opioids for athletes. It could also increase hunger to gain weight if you compete as a power lifter, for example.

Pickett said we need more research on the use of marijuana by athletes as a performance enhancer. However, he does not favor removing marijuana from the list of banned substances for athletes in competition.

State and federal regulations about cannabis make conducting that research more difficult, he said.

“For example in Utah, you couldn’t necessarily do a study . . . because everyone that was using the medical marijuana would have to have a qualifying medical condition. You might be better off doing those studies in Colorado,” Pickett said. 

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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