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Cannabis In Sports: Can It Help Athletic Recovery?

In July of 2021, the world was gearing up to watch one of the fastest humans compete in the 100M race at the Tokyo Olympics. Expectations were certainly high as Sha’Carri Richardson was coming off of a first place finish at the US track and field trials in Oregon just weeks before. With expectations comes a certain degree of pressure and scrutiny, nothing unusual to world-class athletes like Sha’Carri. After testing positive for marijuana in July, Richardson was suspended for one month, resulting in her absence at the Tokyo Olympics–a loss to the competition but also one that sparked debate around cannabis in sports overall.


Should she have been suspended in the first place? Why is marijuana listed as a performance enhancing drug by doping agencies around the world, including the US? Is there evidence supporting cannabis as a performance enhancing substance? (Spoiler alert: there isn’t) Why are prescription painkillers with risky side effects okay but a plant is not? Medical marijuana users, cannabis advocates, non-cannabis-using advocates, and just about everyone had their 2¢ to throw into the pot–no pun intended.


With style & grace, Sha’Carri owned her actions, noting that she consumed marijuana to cope with the loss of her birth-mother (not to enhance her running) while in Oregon. Taking this in stride and pledging to race with passion after the Olympics is a hard thing to do for any ultra-competitive athlete. Many were still left with the question: should athletes be allowed to consume cannabis or use it for recovery? Can cannabis enhance athletic performance? In an industry that is rapidly evolving with stigmas being broken slowly but surely, these are certainly valid questions!


Is Cannabis Performance Enhancing?

The short answer: there is currently no evidence backed by studies that support a conclusion of marijuana enhancing athletic performance. Each person’s endocannabinoid system is unique though, so studies around this topic are challenging and fascinating. While the evidence is not there, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear from athletes who think cannabis does enhance an aspect of their performance. Shoot, if Dock Ellis can pitch a no-hitter on LSD, anything is possible. How does marijuana impact athletic recovery after playing a sport or after physical exertion?


Can Cannabis Help Recovery After Sport or Exertion?

While we are lacking clear-cut evidence that marijuana can aid in recovery after sport or athletic activity, our intuition tells us it can. As we all know, cannabis sativa is a magical plant! There’s no denying it though, we need more evidence to know if and how marijuana can aid with recovery after physical exertion. Cannabis studies are not only challenging due to factors like consumption method, dosage, and the individuals in the study, but securing funding to conduct the studies has proven difficult. While a pharmaceutical giant can easily spend millions of dollars on a study for a new drug, the cannabis industry does not have such luxury at the moment. However, this is changing in a positive direction with more institutions and even governments funding studies on how cannabis affects people, such as post-workout recovery.


Anecdotal Examples of Cannabis Impact on Athletic Recovery

Without data from double-blind studies that isolate cannabis as best as possible to determine how subjects were affected after consuming cannabis post-exercise, we have to rely on anecdotal evidence and expert opinion. We do know that cannabidiol, also known as CBD, can be used to treat a slew of ailments like pain and inflammation, insomnia, anxiety and more. This recent evidence from studies makes one wonder: because CBD is naturally found in cannabis along with dozens of other cannabinoids and terpenes, wouldn’t cannabis therefore assist with atheltic recovery after exercise? The word on the street is that cannabis certainly does! Below are a few common exercise-related noteworthy testimonials from those using cannabis to recover:


Reduced Inflammation & Pain

One of the biggest reported benefits of using cannabis after exercise according to those studied was mitigating the post-activity pain, inflammation, and soreness. In fact, one of the most prominent observations from the participants was how they believed cannabis helped negate delayed muscle onset soreness. For more physically challenging activities like rock climbing, mixed martial arts, and football, cannabis might be a great, all natural alternative to over the counter pain meds such as ibuprofen or Tylenol. Maybe one day, cannabis will be in a therapeutic class of its own and be prescribed to athletes globally.


Better Sleep, Better Recovery

There’s no secret to this one: the better you sleep and the longer you sleep, the more your body is able to recover. As it stands now, one of the biggest reasons people use medical marijuana is to treat sleep issues. Exercise enthusiasts who use cannabis will often share their belief that cannabis helps them get deeper sleep, in turn, leading to greater recovery from their workouts. Even with no official studies to support this, the anecdotal evidence for this is mounting more than ever. It makes sense to us–just think of those times when you get your 8 hours and wake up feeling refreshed! Any fitness enthusiast could benefit from better sleep.


Mitigating Sports Anxiety

One of the findings from Cannabidiol and Sports Performance: a Narrative Review of Relevant Evidence and Recommendations for Future Research was how CBD could reduce sports performance anxiety. While this study did not technically study participants for post-competition stress, a common theme among athletes is how cannabis may help them “get into the zone.” While being”in the zone” may give an individual a mental advantage when competing, couldn’t less pre-competition stress also help an athlete after exertion? This very question caught the eye of scientists and is currently being researched. After all, stress is one of the most detrimental things for one’s health. The anxiolytic properties of cannabis may be able to counter exercise- or competition-induced stress.


Using Cannabis to Recover from Sports or Activities

With little truly evidence-based material available about how marijuana can improve athletic recovery after playing a sport or physical exertion, one may be better off applying a trial and error method to test for themselves. Because CBD has been more widely studied versus cannabis and has a plethora of health benefits, CBD may also be a good place to implement, track, and measure how it helps after prolonged or intense physical activity. As we say when picking cannabis products, your nose knows best. This is also true for your body! Listen to it and it will trailblaze a way for you to live a healthier lifestyle.


For those curious about using marijuana to recover, ask a friend, do some research, contact local cannabis dispensaries, and don’t hesitate to reach out to our friends at Leaf411! They are a nonprofit group of cannabis medical experts dedicated to helping the cannabis community and those looking to use cannabis for medical purposes.

February 1, 2022
Cannabis Education
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