Marijuana is more accessible (and popular) now than ever, but little is known about the plant’s definitive effects on athletes.
Fortunately, with the rise of cannabis legalization and decriminalization across Europe, the United States, and beyond, researchers are gradually unraveling the truth about marijuana and its implications on exercise performance.
Not long ago, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) eliminated a handful of products from their forbidden substances for athletes. The news came three months after female American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for one month from the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games for returning a positive cannabis drug test. Richardson is not the only sports fanatic that uses cannabis; however, research implies that cannabinoids are the second most commonly used substance among athletes who participate in contact sports; replacing nicotine. Moving forwards, the agency plans to review marijuana’s place on the list of banned substances. This article will cover the pros and cons of using certain cannabinoids for those adrenaline-pumping sessions on the track, in the gym, or wherever your physical training session may take you.
Evidence Supporting the Use of CBD for Exercise Performance One cannabis compound stands out from the rest in terms of its therapeutic prowess for active individuals – cannabidiol (CBD). CBD use is not only widespread among athletes, but also, it has been praised in scientific studies for its ability to fight chronic pain and spasticity, as well as improve sleep and mood. The natural antioxidant may also serve as a vital aid for immunosuppression and inflammation.Unlike its psychoactive counterpart, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not induce psychotomimetic and psychotropic effects in users.
A handful of studies have shed some light on the cannabinoid’s suitability as an aid for exercise performance, a few of which we will explore below:CBD May Reduce Inflammation Caused by Athletic InjuryThe non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD has natural antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been suggested that CBD may indirectly improve anti-inflammatory effects. A Pulmonary Pharmacology & Therapeutics journal study showed that CBG (cannabigerol) exhibits an anti-inflammatory response. CBD can reduce inflammation when it’s topically applied to muscles or as an orally-consumable ointment.
CBD Has Natural Painkilling QualitiesBasic experiments have revealed that cannabinoids harbor significant potential in treating acute and chronic pain. One particular study titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research” hypothesized that CBD could help to reduce muscle pain in people with Multiple Sclerosis. Plus, since hundreds of athletes have died from opioid overdoses over the last few years, cannabis could be a welcome addition for individuals who lead an active lifestyle.
CBD Could Improve Focus for Workout Sessions An earlier report published by the National Institutes of Health in 2018 speculated that CBD could aid improved mental health and sharpness in various ways. The report demonstrated that CBD supplements might prove helpful in promoting neuron growth in the brain, which implies that CBD could help to relieve anxiety and sadness, all the while improving focus for athletes.
A 2020 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that one 600 mg serving of CBD amplified blood flow to the hippocampus – an essential part of the brain that significantly influences memory processing.CBD Can Promote a Good Night SleepSleep is vital for people who engage in regular exercise since it promotes muscle tissue recovery between workouts and provides the body with sufficient energy and strength. The National Sleep Foundation advised adults to get 7-9 hours of rest every night. Preliminary research indicates that CBD can help patients to manage several sleep disorders, one of which is insomnia.
The non-psychoactive cannabinoid ensures the body advances through the normal stages of sleep and REM sleep without disturbance.CBD Can Effectively Treat Muscle SpasmsSo effective is CBD for treating muscle spasms that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a CBD-containing product called Epidiolex. Enriched with a purified form of CBD, Epidiolex is specially formulated to treat muscle spasms caused by seizures. Topical CBD solutions are recommended for localized relief from exercise-related spasms. Muscle spasms can also be treated/prevented by applying heat or ice, massaging the affected area, and stretching before exercise
Evidence Against Cannabis Use for Exercise Performance Although ample benefits are associated with cannabis (particularly CBD) for athletic individuals, it’s essential to address the potential cons of using cannabis for these purposes.
Let’s explore some of the research that goes against the use of cannabis for exercise performance:Cannabis May Hinder Workout Capacity and Cause Undesired Physiological ResponsesIn April last year, PubMed featured a systematic review titled “Acute Effects of Cannabis on Exercise Performance.” The study, carried out under the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) method, gathered data from eight peer-reviewed publications and 10 literature reviews.
After conducting a computer-based systematic search in September 2019 through the Pubmed, Scopus, and SPORTDiscus databases, researchers found that pre-workout cannabis consumption negatively impacts exercise performance. Specifically, cannabis consumption affected the ability to maintain effort and physical/maximal work capacity and caused undesired physiological responses.
Pre-workout cannabis use also contributed to increased breathing and heart rate, as well as neurological effects on balance and myocardial oxygen demand.THC Does Not Improve Aerobic Exercise or StrengthIn 2017, a systematic review published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport revealed that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) consumption did not enhance aerobic performance. THC is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. Using PubMed, Embase, and Medline as a source for research, an investigative team explored the effects of integrating marijuana, cannabinoids, and THC into exercise and sport.
In addition, an entire decade’s worth of sports medicine journal content was analyzed, and the team cross-referenced the journal findings.Based on the mere handful of published studies that have (so far) investigated the effects of THC on exercise, the researchers found that cannabis triggered angina at a reduced workload. They also hypothesized that exercise strength is likely reduced after THC consumption. Adverse reactions to cannabis were also noted. Smoking Cannabis May Cause Lung Damage Although it is possible to consume cannabis in various
ways, such as with oil tinctures, capsules, suppositories, vaporizers, edibles, and water-soluble cannabinoids, many people smoke the plant for immediate effects. Unfortunately for athletes (and anyone who opts for smokable cannabis), cannabis smoking may lead to lung tissue damage and scarring.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns consumers about the carcinogens and toxins contained in cannabis since these chemicals might negatively impact small blood vessels.In 2019, a UC Davis study of cannabis samples from four Southern California dispensaries confirmed that 93% of the samples tested positive for pesticides and other contaminants.ConclusionThe existing scope of research into cannabis’ effects on exercise performance varies.
To better understand whether or not athletes and sporty individuals should consider introducing the plant into their lifestyle, further research is needed. Specifically, more research should be carried out into the hundreds of cannabinoids that have been identified so far, such as Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabigerolic Acid (CBGA), Cannabinol (CBN), and Cannabinol (CBN).Note: Always seek advice and guidance from a licensed doctor or healthcare expert before introducing cannabis into your health and wellness routine.
Written and Published By Bethan Bee Rose in Weed World Magazine Issue 160