Cannabis as a Sport and Fitness Aid (Part I)

The average person might perceive the relationship between marijuana and athletics as vague, and most likely detrimental.  We’ll let the late Robin Williams describe this idea for us in the most sincere and commanding way he knew: through manic exaggeration.

“Marijuana enhances many things, colors, flavors, sensations, but you are certainly not (expletive) empowered!  When you’re stoned, you’re lucky if you can find your own (expletive) feet. The only way it’s a performance-enhancing drug is if there’s a big (expletive) Hershey bar at the end of the run. Then you’ll be like a Swiss ski jumper going, “I’m there!”

Yes, it might seem clear to Robin (and to most readers) that marijuana is to athletic performance as hot fudge is to weight loss.  However, medical research that explores interactions between cannabis’ active components and various systems of the human body suggest a surprising amount of potential towards quite the opposite outcome; when used smartly, marijuana yields some promise for those seeking to improve their athletic capabilities.

Among the ways that cannabis can be aid fitness and the capacity to train is by way of its bronchodilatory effect.   THC has been observed to benefit asthma patients by allowing the inner diameter of the bronchi and bronchioles (the tracts that lead to the lungs) to expand, which allows an unobstructed flow of air into the lungs (1).  Clear airways allow an easier flow of oxygen into the lungs and into the bloodstream, which can prove beneficial for muscular endurance.  Therefore, inhaled cannabis (as administered in the cited study) may serve useful for athletes looking to train to their maximum potential.

In addition the the potential benefit of aiding the delivery of oxygen to muscles via the bloodstream, the psychoactivity of THC can serve as an aid in concentration and focus, especially in activities that require unbroken concentration for extended periods of time, such as yoga and distance events like marathons and triathlons.  As triathlete Clifford Drusinsky told Men’s Health magazine, “Marijuana relaxes me and allows me to go into a controlled, meditational place.  When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form,” (2).  Experienced athletes who can already assume a state of mental preparedness and focus for their particular sport may find that certain strains of cannabis may provide an additional boost to their concentration.

For those whose fitness routine consists of high-intensity training sessions that require a careful recovery period, cannabis can potentially serve as an agent of relief during rest, and can be implemented in such a way to maximize and speed recovery.  The anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can serve to alleviate soreness in muscles after heavy strength training, and can help keep joints moving smoothly and free of pain (3).  Meanwhile, those who are attempting to gain muscle mass but who have difficulty consuming all the calories necessary to do so may find an appetite stimulant useful in achieving their goal, and cannabis is notorious for its ability to ramp up one’s appetite.

With all of this potential for cannabis to serve as an aide to athletic training and preparation for competition, a new question arises, one that directly challenges Robin Williams’ aforementioned assessment: Is it justifiable for athletic sanctioning bodies to ban the consumption of cannabis on the grounds of its possible use as a performance-enhancing substance?

Stay tuned for our follow-up!

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