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Does Cannabis Improve Athletic Performance?

While Canada has legalized cannabis in 2018, this did not automatically mean that professional athletes could use cannabis without breaking drug use rules. Those who participate in professional sports should follow guidelines set by the sports body. With respect to drug use, they must adhere to specific rules associated with “doping” as established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It is therefore important to determine “does cannabis improve athletic performance?” »

Note: not all cannabinoids remain on the list of prohibited substances. Since 2018, CBD is no longer on the banned list.

What is doping?

Doping typically focuses on drugs that enhance performance in athletes, giving them an unfair advantage, such as steroids.

However, doping is not the only reason a substance can end up on the list of prohibited substances. According to Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the substances are added to the list because the use of the substance:

  • has the potential to improve performance;
  • may harm the health of the athlete; and
  • undermines the spirit of sport.

In Canada, the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES) ensures that The code established by the World Anti-Doping Agency is respected.

Although there is an established code, most North American professional sports leagues do not explicitly follow it. Rather, they tend to police themselves, making it difficult to know how each league views cannabis.

Why is THC on the Prohibited Substances List?

The CCES does not view cannabis as performance-enhancing in the same way as steroids; however, they believe that cannabis is used for therapeutic purposes in an effort to enhance performance.

Additionally, the CCES states that regular use has the potential for harm to athletes, especially young athletes. In addition, impairment during competitions poses a safety risk.

However, despite these rules, professional athletes who use cannabis for medical purposes can apply for a medical exemption from the CCES.

Does Cannabis Improve Athletic Performance?

The simple answer is no. There are no direct evidence to suggest that cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug.

A new study at the University of Colorado aims to provide direct evidence that cannabis does not improve athletic performance. The study compares the experience of athletes running on a treadmill on an empty stomach and after consuming cannabis.

80% of cannabis users mix cannabis and exercise.

If there is no improvement in athletic performance, why do people, including professional athletes, mix cannabis and exercise? In the same study, participants say it is for the following reasons

  • 70% say it increases pleasure
  • 78% say it boosts recovery
  • 52% say it motivates them

The euphoric experience associated with cannabis draws comparisons to a “runner high‘, which could increase motivation and enjoyment of training.

One of the University of Colorado study participants believes that using cannabis before training helps a runner experience a high earlier in training than without cannabis.

picture by Elsa Olofson on Unsplash

Cannabis and Workout Recovery

We know that cannabis can aid recovery from training by managing pain and inflammation and aiding sleep.

Learn more about usage cannabis for workout recovery.

Final Thoughts on Cannabis and Athletic Performance

Cannabis does not appear to improve athletic performance and athletes around the world continue to use it. Hopefully, with more scientific research providing evidence that cannabis does not improve athletic performance, we will see THC removed from the list of prohibited substances. However, as stated earlier, security must be considered.

For athletes who are not restricted by professional governing bodies, cannabis can help improve motivation and enjoyment of training while promoting recovery.

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