By Andrea Bell
It has become mainstream knowledge that marijuana has medicinal properties that can help with a wide range of ailments and symptoms, but what many people don’t know is that it can even help with athletic performance.
There are a growing number of long-distance runners who will use marijuana before and/or after a run. Some well-known ultra-runners (runners of distances greater than a marathon’s 26.2 miles) have even admitted to training and racing while actually under the influence of marijuana.
Not only that but college athletes, in general, have begun to use more marijuana than they used to. Marijuana is now the number one drug used by this demographic, having overtaken tobacco for the spot.
So what is it about marijuana that makes it so useful in athletic activities?
The benefits of marijuana and athletics
Some runners claim that marijuana helps take their mind off things during their run and simply enjoy the experience. This is because marijuana lowers stress and anxiety, inhibitions and focus, and can heighten feelings of relaxation and calmness.
For runners prone to stressing about how many miles they still have to go, whether they are pacing themselves correctly, and so on, this can be a huge advantage.
Two chemicals are at play here. CBD, or cannabidiol, is responsible for the feeling of calm and relaxation. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is responsible for the psychoactive components of marijuana, and also leads to a lack of focus, potential drowsiness, and euphoric feelings.
In fact, consuming marijuana gives a person a similar feeling to when they have a runner’s high – this is due to higher levels of anandamide, which is produced naturally in the body after exercise. This means that smoking (or consuming in some other way) marijuana can actually let a person enjoy exercising more, rather than it feeling like a chore.
That being said, the studies of marijuana’s effect on people pursuing athletic activities is quite minimal, and ones that have been done end up highlighting the cons rather than the pros. But some promising studies have been done to show that the potential for marijuana being helpful to athletes everywhere is indeed ‘high.’
Generally speaking, marijuana can relieve anxiety, give the user stronger feeling of well-being, and can be a useful sleep aid for the night before a competition or a race. It can also help people respond more impulsively, allowing them to take more risks without risking poor judgment.
That can be a huge bonus for athletes. Any past negative memories (such as injuries that were traumatic and are now hard to forget) can be dulled, allowing the athlete to proceed uninhibited.
It’s possible that marijuana even raises how much oxygenation is occurring of the tissues, and could even help with concentration and vision.
Pain relief is a proven benefit of marijuana consumption, as is the reduction of spasms in the muscles.
Potential downfalls of marijuana and athletics
Many athletes (and everyday people with common sense) would be quick to point out that smoking marijuana can’t be all good for athletes since it could hurt their lungs. That is why many athletes prefer other methods of taking marijuana, whether it’s vaping, consuming it via edibles, or taking a pill.
That being said, there is less information out there for consuming marijuana in this way, and every method tends to have a different effect on a person’s body, so always proceed with caution.
Of course, the negative effects of marijuana, in general, have plenty of backing from past studies — which has a lot to do with the lack of social or cultural acceptance but still should be paid attention to nonetheless.
This includes the potential to have a long-term negative effect on your short-term memory, to lower a person’s alertness, to slow reaction times, to allow muscles to tire faster, and potentially leading to cardiovascular issues. IQs have even been shown to decrease after using marijuana.
Marijuana also affects everyone differently, so some might have an opposite effect than what they want or need.
For example, they might feel more anxious or paranoid rather than relaxed and calm.
The main issue that affects marijuana users today is the question of legality. Only a few states in the US allow for recreational marijuana use so far.
That being said, it is clear that it is gradually becoming more accepted in the mainstream, and several states will decide this upcoming election whether to allow recreational use within their state. Marijuana is not authorized by the World Anti-Doping Agency anyway, so elite athletes are unlikely to be allowed to use it in their professional careers.
The future of marijuana for athletes
Of course, plenty more research needs to be done before we can definitively say one way or the other whether marijuana use is a good choice for all athletes. Unfortunately, tough laws make it hard to do enough research to adequately establish the effects of marijuana on athletes.
Plus, every strain of marijuana is going to affect a person differently, so it’s important not to overgeneralize and assume all marijuana will be helpful for sports.
So although it’s too soon to start advertising marijuana officially for use during or after athletic activities, we can use the anecdotal evidence of the many athletes already utilizing marijuana to their benefit to rest assured that the future of marijuana and athletics is bright.