The Effect of Cannabis on Sports – Is It Really a Performance Enhancing Drug?

The Effect of Cannabis on Sports – Is It Really a Performance Enhancing Drug?

The question of whether cannabis is a performance enhancing drug or not is certainly a controversial one. The effects of cannabis can be both beneficial to athletes and at the same time can affect physical performance in such a way that it hinders. So where does cannabis stack up in the list of performance enhancing drugs? Read this article to find out.

As weed becomes more and more popular around the world, and more countries go on legalizing it, the question of its effect on professional athletes is in the forefront of the sporting world. More and more athletes are turning to cannabis for various reasons, and the more it is legalized, the more athletes that are expected to use it. There are many different ways that weed can affect a person, but do any of these effects fall into the category of “performance enhancing”?

The way that cannabis affects mood and overall wellbeing suggests that there might be elements to cannabis use that can really complement the life of the athlete. On the other hand, cannabis can affect certain parts of the brain that can be detrimental to agility, which means it could hinder sports performance. Because of its differing effects on different people, making a decision about whether or not cannabis enhances sports performance is a huge judgment call.

Although it is still a banned substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency, the topic is hot among athletes around the world. Some argue that it doesn’t help performance, but hinders it, and therefore should not be considered on the anti-doping policy. To get to the crux of the issue, we will delve into the science of what happens to the body when we use weed!

The effect of cannabis on the body

The primary ingredients of cannabis are THC and CBD, although the plant contains many other compounds that make it into the body. However, for the purpose of this argument, we will focus on these two main cannabinoids. These two cannabinoids enter and affect the body in different ways, and both offer different characteristics to the cannabis experience.

While THC is mainly responsible for the cerebral high, this cannabinoid binds receptors in the brain and affects these critical parts. The parts of the brain generally affected are those parts that deal with memory, perception and attention. In terms of the way this affects sports performance, there have been little to no studies, so this is all a process of deduction. In general, THC can cause a decreased reaction time, disturbances in short-term memory recollection and an interference with hand-eye co-ordination. THC can also divide attention, making it difficult for the user to focus.

CBD, on the other hand, affects metabolic processes such as appetite, immune function, pain sensation and reactions to stress. Depending on what kind of cannabis is being used, these effects can be extremely beneficial for an athlete. Cannabinol (another prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis) binds with a certain cannabinoid receptor in the brain that handles immune cells, making it great at increasing immunity in the body.

Different methods of consumption

The Effect of Cannabis on Sports – Is It Really a Performance Enhancing Drug?

It is important to note the different methods of consumption and the enormous effect this can have for those performing in sports. Most health-conscious cannabis users will choose a method of ingestion that is not damaging to the body, such as through edibles or oils. This is because smoking weed can definitely cause some reactions in the body that are less than desirable for athletes.

Scientists say that when weed is smoked, only 50-60 percent of the THC and CBD present in the plant material actually makes it into the body of the user. The rest is lost to combustion. In the process, harmful carcinogens are also inhaled into the lungs, and this can create a myriad of setbacks for an athlete. It would probably be hard to find an athlete out there who swears by smoking cannabis for its medicinal benefits. Although medicinal benefits can still be reached, smoking comes with far too many complications for an athlete. Edibles and oils are the far likelier choice for athletes, who could then get the medicinal benefits without all the detrimental health effects.

What this means for sports performance

So, while some athletes swear by using cannabis to stay on top of their game, others say that the effects of cannabis in fact hinder their abilities as athletes. So what’s the truth of the matter? Well, when we consider the different effects that cannabis has on the body and the mind, both conclusions can be drawn. There are properties of the weed experience that could offer the athlete emotional benefits, and there are properties that could really hinder neurological processes in respect to sports.

Weed offers the individual several benefits to their well-being that will probably make them perform better at whatever they do, whether it is sports or academic. For example, some athletes use cannabis as a way to de-stress and relax in between competitions, or even after training sessions. An athlete who is more relaxed and is less tried by the tribulations of athletic life, such as grueling training and long hours, is far more likely to perform better than a stressed athlete. However, the same can be said of any other person in any profession. Happiness is a great tool for success irrespective of what you do, so it’s no surprise that the stress alleviating properties of weed can really benefit a professional athlete.

On the other hand, cannabis affects parts of the brain that could really hinder the performance of a professional athlete. Things like reaction time and hand-eye coordination are imperative to the optimum performance of an athlete, and if something is standing in the way, chances are they can’t compete with their counterparts.

So what does all of this mean? In terms of “performance enhancing” in the strict sense, cannabis is not. It is not the kind of drug that can be used to make an athlete faster or stronger or at all physically more advanced than another. In fact, it’s probably not recommended that athletes use it right before a major sporting event. Having said that, there are athletes who swear by training with cannabis because it draws them more deeply into the present moment. For use in between events, cannabis can be extremely effective at decreasing stress and increasing immunity.

Drug testing for athletes

The Effect of Cannabis on Sports – Is It Really a Performance Enhancing Drug?

Drug testing is a huge part of the requirements athletes must meet in order to be eligible to compete. Currently, THC and CBD are both present as substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, meaning any athlete caught using weed could lose their title or be disqualified from competition. This has been the topic of controversy because a lot of athletes do not feel that cannabis falls into the category of “performance enhancing”, and that the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banning of it is unreasonable.

The truth is that nothing suggests that cannabis provides anything to the body that makes it faster or stronger and doesn’t really effect the athlete in ways other performance enhancers do, such as steroids. The effect on performance is more of a byproduct of the effect that cannabis has on wellbeing, and banning it is similar to telling athletes to stop their multi-vitamin routine. There’s no doubt that there are countless substances out there that really make the playing field unbalanced and uneven, but cannabis doesn’t seem to be one of them.

Weed works on a level far deeper than the physical, but whose effects elsewhere can really seep into the physical body. This does not make it a conventional performance enhancing drug. It probably is not too long before the perspective of the World Anti-Doping Agency changes, and athletes are allowed to test positive to certain cannabinoids.


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  • Author_profiles-WSS-Sera Jane Ghaly

    Sera Jane Ghaly

    I like to call myself the traveling gypsy wanderer of the world. Born in Melbourne Australia, but reborn just about everywhere else in the world. I have a healthy obsession with words and languages, using them as a vehicle to navigate this multi-dimensional human experience. My enthusiasm for marijuana started in the USA, and since then I’ve been traveling the world with the herb as my inspiration. Sweet Mary Jane has led me to shamanic ceremonies in the Amazon all the way to smoking ganja with the Babas in India.
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