Are there any negative effects of weed on athletes? Just a few years ago, all anyone was concerned with was the potential adverse effects of cannabis on athletes. Boy, have times changed.
Fast forward to 2018 and athletes across numerous sports — including the MMA’s Nick and Nate Diaz, podcaster and UFC commentator Joe Rogan, all-star MLB pitcher Tim Lincecum, a boatload of NFL players, and of course, pretty much every snowboarder who’s ever lived — have touted the benefits of cannabis as a performance and recovery enhancer.
So let’s cut through the b.s. and do a deep (honest) dive on cannabis. Namely, we’ll address two fundamental questions:
- Are There Any Negative Effects of Weed on Athletes?
- Are There Any Positive Effects of Weed on Athletes?
So as to not overhype cannabis as a panacea and elixir that can make you superhuman, we’ll first address the (potential) negative effects of weed on athletes. Then we’ll get into the good stuff!
Are There Any Negative Effects of Weed on Athletes?
Every drug, and we mean literally every drug, carries some risks. Moreover, most drugs can have dose-dependent opposing effects. In low to moderate doses, they can be helpful. Take too much, abuse a drug, then predictably, they can have adverse effects. Cannabis is no different. Most potential adverse effects, however, can be mitigated by responsible use.
Let’s look at the most common.
Smoking Is Bad for Your Lungs
It should go without saying that smoking anything isn’t good for your lungs and could impede performance. To be clear, there’s no convincing evidence that cannabis carries anywhere close to the risks of smoking tobacco, however, it’s still not good for you. Smoking cannabis is unlikely to cause cancer like tobacco, but it can elevate your risk of developing chronic respiratory problems. Since most users hold unfiltered smoke deep in their lungs and hold it as long as possible, the risks can be significant.
Cannabis May Negatively Affect Your Immune System
There is some research (animal studies) suggesting cannabis could adversely affect your immune system, something athletes (or anyone for that matter) don’t want!
Excessive Cannabis Use May Lead to Motivational Problems
Some research suggests that excessive long-term cannabis use is associated with motivational issues and apathy. Obviously, if you’re an athlete, the last thing you want to have to deal with is a lack of motivation.
However, as we’ll discuss in the next section, what kind of cannabis you use may have a lot to do with whether cannabis helps or harms your motivation. Also, it depends on your physiology. Some people find cannabis has a negative effect on their motivation, while others find it to boost focus.
Cannabis Increases Your Heart Rate
There’s no debate here. Cannabis does elevate your heart rate. Don’t believe it? Measure your heart rate before and after using cannabis. The risk here is that you could reach your limit much faster.
Cannabis Can Impair Short-Term Memory
Again, there’s not much debate here. After you consume cannabis, you’ll have more difficulty encoding short-term memory. This generally passes once you’re not “high” anymore, but not if you use too much, too often.
Cannabis Lowers Your Reaction Time
After using cannabis, most users experience a diminished reaction time. That’s also why you shouldn’t drive after using. This can be an issue for some sports, but not all. Runners, for example, often claim that they can run longer and be more focused after using cannabis. For other sports, it’s probably best to abstain right before performing.
Too Much Cannabis Can Make You Sleepy the Following Day
Morning somnolence, as it’s formally called, is common after using a lot of weed. This is especially true with edibles, which stay in your body a lot longer.
Solution: Mind how much you’re consuming and don’t exceed your threshold.
Cannabis Can Cause Some Users to Experience Anxiety or Paranoia
Anxiety and paranoia are two of the most commonly reported adverse effects of cannabis. While it definitely doesn’t happen to everyone, it certainly happens to some of the best of us.
Solution: Avoid strains and products with super high levels of THC. THC can cause anxiety. Likewise, use products that have a decent amount of CBD. Research suggests CBD neutralizes the anxiety-inducing properties of THC.
Why What Kind of Weed You Use Matters
Performance-enhancing drugs are generally classified as either:
- Performance Aids: Great for improving an athlete’s abilities during training or competition
- Recovery Aids: Great for promoting or accelerating recovery and healing.
It should go without saying, not all weed (nor all weed products) are the same. In fact, depending on the strain and product, they can be either a performance aid or recovery aid.
Indica-dominant strains have much higher amounts of a terpene called myrcene, which is why indicas are highly sedative, known for producing “couch-lock.” While indica-dominant strains can be great for pain (and sleep), they’re not going to be a good choice to work out with. But, they can be a great alternative to opioid-based pain relievers.
Sativa-dominant strains are known for producing stimulating, invigorating highs. They can not only give you energy but improve focus. Strains like Durban Poison (often referred to as the “espresso of cannabis”) can enhance your workout and can be great for a run.
High-CBD strains (and products) are great for promoting a clear-headed high, and in lower doses, can be stimulating. They’re also great for focus.
Finally, topicals can be an awesome addition to your workout as you can apply them directly to sore muscles for incredible pain relief and recovery acceleration.
What Are The Positive Effects of Cannabis on Athletes?
Okay! Now that we got the risks out of the way, let’s explore all the potentially positive effects of weed on athleticism.
Pot Is Much Safer Than Opioids
We don’t have to tell you — America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Opioids are great for short-term pain relief but horrible to use long-term. They’re highly addictive and potentially deadly. Cannabis, on the other hand, is much less addictive, more effective, and much safer than opioids. And, unlike opioids (and most pain meds), cannabis is both an analgesic and an anti-inflammatory. That means, not only can it directly address the pain, but it can target inflammation, too.
Pot Can Speed Up Recovery
Cannabis can help you relax your muscles once they become fatigued. It can make it easier to do stretches and use a foam roll after workouts. Moreover, it can soothe your pains and aches and, of course, stimulate your appetite.
Cannabis can increase oxygenation of muscle tissues. When your muscle tissues are properly oxygenated and blood is flowing freely, your muscles and body can recover more quickly.
Cannabis Can Reduce Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms occur when your muscles tighten and contract involuntarily. It’s a concern to every athlete. Fortunately, many of the active components in cannabis have been shown to reduce muscle spasms.
Increases Sensory Awareness
Some athletes claim training with cannabis increases their sensory awareness, allowing them to more easily tap into one’s mind-muscle connection while allowing their body movements to be more efficient.
Cannabis May Improve Focus
Many athletes claim cannabis helps them focus during workouts, shutting out distractions and helping them get through intense workouts more easily.
Increases Pain Threshold
Weed also increases your pain threshold while reducing anxiety, allowing you to push yourself harder during intense workouts.
What Sports Mix Best With Cannabis?
Cannabis may not be ideal for every sport, but here’s a few where cannabis has a lot of fans, with many athletes touting the benefits of using weed.
Weed has been a part of basketball culture since the 1970s. Even former NBA Commissioner, David Stern, last year endorsed lifting the ban. And, currently, there are major efforts by the players’ union to allow players to use cannabis without getting punished by the NBA. In fact, in an interview with SB Nation, National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) Executive Director Michele Roberts claims:
“My own view is that there are substantial signs that support its efficacy and the value that it has for us, especially pain management. We’re in talks with the league to see where we can go with it.”
Many bodybuilders have combined cannabis with working out, including former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some bodybuilders claim it helps them focus during workouts, while others may take a rip to sleep better and prevent soreness.
Football (And Other High-Impact Contact Sports)
Chris Kluwe, the former punter for the Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, and Minnesota Vikings is a big fan of cannabis. Here’s what he told Leafly:
“Like a lot of other guys, I used cannabis during my playing career because it helps take quite a bit of the pain away,” Kluwe told Leafly. “I’ve seen what happened with a lot of the older guys — in terms of the guys who played during the ’70s and ’80s. They were hooked on pain pills, and we all saw how they turned out… In the locker room when guys used to talk about it, it wasn’t about, ‘I’m going to go get blazed and tear up the town.’ It was like, ‘Yeah I smoked a bit and passed out on the couch because I felt like crap after practice.’”
Chris Barnicle, a former professional runner who claims to be the “world’s fastest stoner” has long been an avid cannabis user. There are also pro-pot running groups such as Run on Grass in Denver and online communities like Cannafit, NORML Athletics, and of course, 420 Games.
Snowboarding just goes with cannabis. Period!
The Cannabis and Yoga combo is becoming increasingly popular. And it makes perfect sense. Cannabis helps you relax, focus, and meditate — a perfect combo for yoga. Darrin Zeer, founder of 420 Retreats in Colorado, an experiential retreat for ganja yoga and meditation for healing and pain relief, claims, “Cannabis, for me, is a medicine for the physical, emotional, and spiritual body. For some people, cannabis can help open the spiritual door and give them a peek.” Zeer notes that mind-expanding substances were used during Vedic times as a means of expanding consciousness.
While we still need more scientific research to prove all of weed’s performance-enhancing effects, the magic herb has a strong following in sports. Long gone are the days of the proverbial lazy stoner. Many of today’s cannabis enthusiasts are also athletes.