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Cannabis and sport, performance and recovery
Cannabis is quickly becoming the go-to aid for professional and recreational sportsmen alike. We’re here to answer all your sports and cannabis questions.
Why use cannabis for sport and recovery?
Cannabis has been shown to aid the pursuit of mental stamina, increased focus, and pain relief. (CBD), via transdermal patches and gels help athletes to bounce back from sports-sustained wear and tear. One athlete said “After a 30- to 40-mile run, I’ll sit down, and my legs will keep throbbing and pounding; it’s like they think they’re still supposed to be going, CBD compounds help tremendously. They calm down your legs and, because they’re anti-inflammatory, let them recover faster”.
Benefits of cannabis for sport and recovery
1: Reduce Inflammation
Reducing muscle and joint inflammation is one of the most promising areas of cannabis research. Many studies have found that CBD, the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, helps ease inflammation. Now, researchers are looking into its potential to treat autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease, lupus, and psoriasis. Cannabis can help pain and inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue or recovering from past injury or surgery. Topicals and tinctures are incredible for locally targeted recovery in highly concentrated doses.
2: Ease Pain
Going hand-in-hand with its anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis has also been found to alleviate pain. This is one area of cannabis research that has shown many positive results. Marijuana can alleviate pain caused by everything from chronic pain to acute pain from muscle spasms, studies have found—and that’s good news for anyone looking for alternatives to dangerous, habit-forming opiates. Studies show cannabis’ compounds are anti-inflammatory, stress reducing, antioxidative, and pain mediating,
3: Treat Muscle Spasms
Another area of medical application for cannabis is in treating muscle spasms. Cannabis has shown positive results in treating muscle spasms associated with diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, and its benefits could extend to athletes suffering from spasms as well. The effects are presumably due to the anti-inflammatory properties.
4: Improve Sleep
It’s no secret that THC induces sleep, but studies have also found that it can also help people with sleep apnea and even suppress dreams, which is beneficial for those suffering from PTSD. Meanwhile, CBD can ease REM sleep disorder (where people “act out” their dreams) and daytime fatigue. Everyone knows how important sleep is to overall fitness, so this can be extremely beneficial to your athletic performance. Another benefit: Marijuana can be an alternative to traditional sleep medications, which can be habit-forming and come with a litany of side effects..
5: Improve Mental Acuity
Contrary to popular thinking, marijuana may not have detrimental effects on brain function. In fact, it could be the opposite. Studies showed that regular, low doses of THC actually restored cognitive function. Many of the fitness experts say weed helped them get in the “zone” with their workouts.
- Bone health
CBD may support healthy bone deposition and help heal fractures. Healthy bones are essential for athletes, and bone health is sometimes compromised by traumatic injuries or inadequate energy availability.
- Management of sports performance anxiety
CBD may also help athletes manage sports performance anxiety, according to the Sports Medicine review. Anxiety before a competition can cause sleep loss, increase energy expenditure, and impair nutritional intake.
Risks of cannabis use in sport
1: Lung damage
Marijuana can hurt athletic performance significantly if you smoke it. It has been linked to structural damage in the lung—possibly even cancer, although the evidence is not as strong as it is with cigarettes. All athletes know that healthy lungs are essential to your overall fitness, so they should be wary of smoking anything.
2: Impair Motor Skills
It’s no secret that, like any intoxicant, marijuana can impair your motor skills. Cannabis use can acutely impair decision making and motor coordination that can make certain activities more difficult. Warning – THC should not be used just prior to resistance exercises. It decreases reaction speed and global stability—not what you want when lifting heavy objects. Research has now found evidence that while marijuana may actually restore cognitive function in older users, it can be harmful to the developing adolescent brain.
3: Increased Likelihood of Chronic Depression
One of the risks of extended cannabis use is an increased likelihood of depression. Depression can be detrimental to fitness, both by decreasing motivation and causing numerous physical side effects.
Depression and stress increase the body’s cortisol levels, which can lead to weight gain, a weakened immune system, blood sugar fluctuations, and gastrointestinal problems
4: Increased Heart Attack Risk
Marijuana has been linked with an increased risk of heart attack within one hour of consuming it. Combined with one of the main triggers for heart attacks—sudden exertion—exercising while under the influence of cannabis can be potentially dangerous. Anyone with any history of heart problems should consult a doctor before beginning any fitness regimen, and probably should avoid marijuana altogether.
So is it legal to use cannabis in sports?
In an era when 28 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws making marijuana medically or recreationally legal, and a recent poll indicates 60% of Americans support pot legalization, an increasing number of elite athletes are stepping forward to proclaim their cannabis advocacy in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago. Cannabis is still on the banned list for professional athletes. These brave athletes are overturning decades of stigmatization of pot as a gateway drug. But a new wave of sports-world acceptance puts cannabis forward as a “biohack.” That is, a plant-based alternative to opioid pain-relief drugs such as codeine or OxyContin that has the added benefit of unlocking the mind’s potential to boost physical output. Weed workouts and cannabis-enhanced recovery products have come into vogue among pro football players, bodybuilders, Major League Baseball players, mixed martial artists, and endurance athletes—as well as some of their coaches, many of whom are helping promote the efficacy of cannabis through word of mouth. Athletes are teaching each other how to do this. It’s like a peer-mentoring process. In South Africa it’s legal to consume cannabis at home but it would still be banned for professional athletes. There is not enough info for them to believe it’s not performance enhancing
Is it performance enhancing?
Cannabis isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. Unlike anabolic steroids, testosterone, or EPO, marijuana has never been shown to give users an unfair advantage. But, users say, its benefits—physical and mental, pre- and post-workout—abound. Users experience mild, short-term euphoria but also, at times, anxiety and introspection. Cannabis helps your mind get into a flow state and can unlock your mind’s potential to focus on the sport you’re participating in. CBD—which, notably, doesn’t get users stoned—is now widely recognized for its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties as well as its ability to lessen anxiety, insomnia, and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Though outlawed by the UFC, CBD is increasingly popular among fighters looking for alternatives to prescription pain pills. Still, the World Anti-Doping Agency has stood by its decision to ban cannabis for competitors like Sha’Carri Richardson after the rising star was unable to participate in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics because of a positive test. But anti-dopers need look no further than the US National Library of Medicine’s research for confirmation that the plant is “not a performance-enhancing drug” in the vein of anabolic steroids. Cannabis might enhance or give a head start on that “good feeling” athletes associate with working out. But as far as performance enhancement, the positive feelings some athletes report after cannabis use does not lead to unnatural recovery rates.
Unnatural recovery is the key feature that gives steroid users an unfair advantage over the competition. While weed won’t allow you to recover and train at unnatural rates, it has been shown to be a far less harmful pain reliever and anti-inflammatory solution than many of the pharmaceutical options that are often pushed on athletes.
According to a relatively new but growing body of research within the medical world, cannabis has palliative power owes to an in-built compatibility with the human body’s endocannabinoid system. This is the neurotransmitter system that processes cannabis. And it endogenously produces chemicals similar to, if not identical to, what the cannabis plant produces to maintain homeostasis. One study found – More than 80% shared that they used cannabis close to the time they exercised, whether before or shortly later on, and out of that specific group, “70% said it increased enjoyment of exercise, 78% said it boosted recovery, and 52% said it heightened motivation.
What the FDA says
Though widespread anecdotal evidence points to a legitimate biological basis for the benefits of marijuana, the substance cannot be designated a true “medicine” until undergoing rigorous controlled trials by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.But there has not been enough research for this and legalization makes this challenging.
“The FDA has not approved any drug product containing or derived from botanical marijuana for any indication,”
Research shows that cannabis consumption—particularly in heavy doses (above 100mg) and for chronic users—can impair short-term memory and decrease alertness, limit lung capacity, and pose increased heart-attack incidence, especially for users with preexisting heart conditions.
“For events that require fine motor skills, like tennis or golf, it could have a deleterious effect. Edibles, vaping, patches, or mouth strips would be highly encouraged versus smoking.
Something to consider
When cannabis is illegal and opioids are the No. 1 choice for managing pain, that’s a problem. We need to let athletes consume cannabis to heal from injuries and manage pain and inflammation.”
How to use cannabis to aid sport and recovery
Microdoses are becoming more popular in the fitness community. Typically between 5mg and 10mg, these dosages are still large enough to trigger cannabinoids’ positive effects, yet small enough not to stimulate its more negative ones.
Edibles vs smoking
Edibles, provide a much deeper high—everything is much more natural and flowing.
Smoking is a clearer high. Sometimes even more energetic. Typically, preferred on a shorter run—10 to 15 miles—because it’s going to wear off a lot faster
Guide to topicals
CBD Skin Cream
Great for concerns, like eczema, psoriasis, chronic dermatitis, or any kind of skin irritation.
CBD Pain Cream
Can help with pain and soreness associated with everything from exercise, to sports injuries, to chronic lower back pain, arthritis, and repetitive strain situations. You get the cooling sensation from the eucalyptus peppermint in the product, and then you get this fantastic anti-inflammatory effect from the CBD, which reduces pain and triggers a release of muscle tension.
A really convenient formula that you can just spray on hard-to-reach places.
CBD Pain Stick
You can use it for sports-related applications, where you really want to dig into a knotted muscle.
Jim McAlpine is the founder of the 420 Games, a three-year-old, family-friendly sporting-event series intended to change the perspective on cannabis and the people who use it within a healthy and active lifestyle. Last May, the longtime weightlifter, open-water swimmer, and cannabis user announced he’d be opening Power Plant Fitness, a San Francisco gym/wellness center that would allow members to consume marijuana products on site, under the supervision of canna-knowledgable fitness professionals.
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