Cannabis and Athletic Performance

When American track and field sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who competes in the 100- and 200-meter dash was barred from the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana, many around the sports world questioned whether the drug should be classified as performance-enhancing for athletes.

Athletes have been known to smoke marijuana for years for pain relief and better performance. There is a lot of buzz about this with most athletes coming out and saying they use marijuana. But there is a lot of dispute around whether marijuana is a performance enhancer.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has said that one of the reasons it has banned cannabis is because the drug can enhance performance. The United States Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee follow the WADA code.

In a WADA 1996 paper, titled “Performance-Enhancing Drugs, Fair Competition, and Olympic Sport,” made a claim that “cannabis could be performance enhancing in sports that require greater concentration.”  The authors of that paper have said there was no clear scientific evidence that at that time supporting that position, but the WADA took the research word for word.

But the idea that marijuana improves performance is not supported by science. The evidence is inconclusive at best, while an overview of the research concludes that marijuana hinders performance by reducing stamina and peak performance while increasing heart and breathing rate.

In a recent New Your Times article, Margaret Haney, a professor of neurobiology at Columbia University stated that regarding marijuana being a performance-enhancing drug, “The ‘evidence’ is extraordinarily weak”. Dr. Haney said that the broader body of research also didn’t support the claims. Marijuana, she said, “reduces reaction time and has other effects that would worsen performance.” There have even been studies have suggested cannabis use prior to exercise should be avoided to maximize performance.

It appears that position that cannabis use is performance-enhancing is based on more policy and politics than science.

Does cannabis use have a benefit in training for an event? Many people believe that marijuana use helps with endurance and gives athletes the ability to recover quicker from workouts. These athletes claim that marijuana helps with their mental focus and helps them block out the world around them. Some athletes are turning to marijuana to help them cope with pain and stress. These athletes are taking advantage of the medicinal properties of cannabis, which can help with chronic pain, anxiety, nausea, seizures, muscle spasms and more. As most people are aware, there are two main types of cannabis: indica and sativa, which are known for their different effects. Sativa is the more energetic, creative, cerebral high that is good for daytime activities, while indica is the more relaxing, sedative, body-high that is better for nighttime relaxation. Cannabis can help reduce stress, pain, and anxiety, which are often the cause of injuries. This can be very useful for athletes who need to play through pain or stay calm during stressful competitions. Experts have agreed that cannabis use could relax some people, but with a side effect of hindering athletic performance.

Marijuana and athletics — a controversial topic and one that requires a lot of research and scientific evidence to come to a conclusion. While marijuana is still somewhat of a taboo in the world of sports and athletics, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Quite the contrary, in fact. Many athletes use marijuana for medical reasons and to aid them in their training and recovery. Athletes who use marijuana do so to help them recover from workouts and aid in muscle soreness and pain. While marijuana may not be the best thing to use in the middle of a competition, it does have its benefits and can be quite useful in the right situations — just like any other drug or medication. Athletes and medical users who use marijuana for these reasons do not use it in excess and use it responsibly.

While marijuana has been shown to help with pain management, the science is still out on whether it can help your body recover after exercise. The truth is, it can be difficult to determine whether pot can help you recover after exercise, because it’s so easy to conflate the pain relief and the recovery process. If you’re going to use marijuana for recovery, it’s best to do it before you exercise, not after.

One of the biggest problems and challenges in researching the impact of cannabis on athletic performance is that it is considered by the U.S. government a Schedule 1 drug.  As a Schedule 1 drug its availability for research is extremely limited.  If this can be changed, we may finally have a scientific answer if cannabis is really performance-enhancing.

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