Why Sports Athletes Use Cannabis

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Cannabis has been long associated with negative effects in the body and mind, so it is confusing to understand why high-end sports athletes use cannabis for better recovery.

Famous former NFL players, NBA players, MMA Fighters in the U.S. are coming out and advocating the use of Medical Cannabis as a substitute for other pain relief drugs. In comparison to opioid painkillers, which are highly addictive and can have prolonged side effects, cannabis doesn’t.

What’s more, there have been studies to show that medical cannabis can be used to treat brain injuries, which is a common and a serious concern for professional athletes in a contact sport.

There is certainly grounds for the sporting associations to reconsider how they classify medical cannabis in their doping rules.

It is understandable that drug use should not be encouraged in the realm of sports. Steroids and other forms of enhancing drugs destroy the concept of a healthy competition. There is an imbalance that occurs when using drugs in sports and this can be addressed as a form of cheating.

However, if medical cannabis is used for treatment for injuries and not enhancement of performance, how does this get defined in sport doping rules? 

In this article, we will take a look at if cannabis could be a performance enhancer, how athletes can benefit from it as well as hear from some sports athletes who are using cannabis.

Cannabis as a Performance- Enhancing Drug

athletes use cannabis

There is no concrete data that cannabis can be used as an enhancer drug in sports and by looking at its chemical makeup and how the body reacts to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it seems impossible… but is it?

Aside from the obvious recovery benefits, in the area of cannabis being considered a ‘performance enhancer’ in sports, there is more research required.

But in this light, the World Anti-Doping Agency raised the allowable level of THC for athletes in 2013. The new guidelines set for athletes mean that they can consume marijuana during training, given that they abide by the  amount required that would trigger positive and beneficial results like controlling inflammation and body aches and pains that relate to injury.

It is said that if inflammation is lowered or managed, the pain threshold is raised.

Consuming marijuana is not allowed on competition days because of its perceived performance enhancement properties which are deemed unfair and against sports competition guidelines.

Cannabis has been proven to deepen and improve concentration, increase tissue oxygenation, and decrease muscle spasms before, during, or after an athletic performance.

With all that said, there are some gray areas where cannabis is concerned.

There have been some cases where athletes tested positive for THC. These athletes were given their sanctioned penalties and consequences for doing so.

  • On 1998, a Canadian snowboarder, Ross Rebagliati won the gold medal for the giant slalom event in the Japan Olympic Games. After winning the gold medal, Ross Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana which led to the decision to strip him of his medal by the International Olympics Committees.

But the appeals and the medal was returned because the International Ski Federation rules do not recognize the ban of marijuana in the giant slalom event. The Medical Code for the  IOC only penalizes illegal acts recognized by the sports federations.

  • On 2009, Michael Phelps was seen in a British tabloid that published him smoking marijuana at a party. Michael Phelps an American swimmer with  14 Olympic gold medals (at the time he now has 18) was seen in the picture ripping a bong hit. Although allegations regarding his cannabis use were not directed at enhancing his performance as an athlete. He was suspended from competition for 3 months by the USA Swimming association.

Benefits of Marijuana for Athletes’ Recovery

The effects of cannabis on athletic performance needs further research. However, the recovery benefits of medical cannabis is more obvious:

  • Improves sleep and recovery after an event
  • Induces relaxation and steadiness
  • Reduces anxiety and fear
  • Relieves the stress
  • Decrease respiratory rate
  • Enhances sensory perception
  • Reduce muscle spasm

Studies noted that the use of cannabis for the relief of anxiety and stress and the reduce muscle spasm are attributes of the medicine athletes look for. The motivation of cannabis use is also due to the effects of relaxing and well-being that promotes better sleep for athletes.

One of the main reasons why athletes use cannabis is for better sleep. Low levels of stress and anxiety also lead to better injury recovery and muscle repair. The therapeutic components of cannabis also rehabilitate overworked muscle for the better ongoing performance of an athlete.

What Strains are Best for Sports?

better cannabis cultivation

While cannabis reacts differently to one’s bodies, it is also important to note that not all strains have the desired and expected effect on athletes. Here are some strains that have been notably used by athletes when engaging in sports.   

Durban Poison

This Sativa is perfect for a cold sports activity. It can give you a head high that helps your distract yourself from the cold weather and give you the energy to complete the task ahead of you.

Bubba Kush

This Indica Strain is perfect for that after sports activity rest and relaxation. It gets rid of muscle spasms and soreness after a long day’s activity.

Maui Wowie

this Sativa lets you get in touch with nature. Mostly for sports that require the outdoors, this strain allows you to bask in everything around you. This is a special strain that lets you connect with your elements, making you one with the earth and water.

Sour Diesel

This Sativa strain makes you see clearly what lies ahead of you. It is said to make the environment clearer, a heightened experience in sensory motors. Vision is more vivid and hearing is keener.

Kali Mist  

This Sativa gives you a boost of extra energy. You glow in the wonder of a heightened experience. Under the influence while in sports makes you communicate better and helps give out spontaneous actions.

Top Athletes Use Cannabis

There are many high-end Sportsmen and women who are opting for medical cannabis for their recovery and injuries. Below are three well- known athletes who use cannabis and why these athletes use cannabis:

Kareem Abdul Jabar

An NBA legend, who holds 6 championships, 6 NBA MVP awards and owns the trademark skyhook that has brought him the honor as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. A proud cannabis consumer for decades, he explains in great detail his experiences with cannabis in his biography “Giant Steps”. He was recently arrested in July of 2000 for suspicion of driving under the influence of cannabis. He was released rush away after his defense of being a licensed medical marijuana patient.

Michael Phelps  

He is dubbed as the Olympian of all time, holding a record of 22 career medals, 18 of them gold. His career as a swimmer earned him 39 world records (29 individuals, 10 relays). After that photo spread depicting Michael Phelps hitting a bong, Phelps admitted to taking in cannabis as a recreational drug. Because the stigma still circulates around cannabis, he was suspended and sponsors like Kellogg’s dropped him. Considering being a cannabis consuming athlete, he has done quite a lot in his career, even breaking records.

Ricky Williams

A famous NFL running quarterback that had over 10,000 career rushing yards. Before entering the NFL, Ricky was a two-time All-American and Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Texas. He set on to break 20 NCAA records. The retired star running back claims to use cannabis as a for of psychotherapy after being diagnosed with anxiety disorder. He also was a spokesperson of Paxil, but later on proclaimed cannabis as a more effective medicine.

Let’s Get Active

To wrap it up, cannabis use CAN, in fact, benefit an athlete’s performance in some sport but if it can be considered an unfair advantage or an enhancing drug… is yet to be determined.

At the end of the day, this herb is providing muscle relaxation, anxiety relief, and caters to muscle recovery.

Although cannabis use in actual physical activity varies from the person and the activity performed, its high implications for muscle rehabilitation is undeniable.

There is a need for further research regarding cannabis in sports to establish if it gives an unfair advantage or enhances one’s abilities. But in our eyes, cannabis is a medicine and should be treated that way.

Have you tried exercising or playing a sport while you are high?  

Tell us in the comments below!


isack cole

isack cole

With a passion for trends, skating, surfing and travel combined with my passion for the legalisation of Cannabis, I have now found a home at Greendorphin. My previous experience was writing for large Media Companies but I am now thrilled to be writing about a niche I am most passionate about. Working with Greendorphin is a dream come true and I now join the mission in educating the masses about the miracle plant, Cannabis

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