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Does Cannabis Improve Athletic Performance?

While Canada legalized cannabis in 2018, it didn’t automatically mean that professional athletes could use cannabis without violating rules around drug use. Those who participate in professional sports must follow guidelines set out by the sporting body. When it comes to drug use, they must adhere to particular rules associated with ‘doping’ as set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). So, it’s important to determine ‘does cannabis improve athletic performance?’

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

What is doping? 

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

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

  • has the potential to enhance performance;
  • can cause harm to the health of the athlete; and
  • violates 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 adhered to. 

Even though 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 perceives cannabis.

Why is THC on the Prohibited Substances List? 

The CCES doesn’t view cannabis as performance-enhancing in the same way that steroids do; however, they believe cannabis is used therapeutically with the intent to improve performance. 

Additionally, the CCES states that regular use presents the potential for harm to athletes, particularly younger athletes. Also, impairment during competitions presents a safety liability. 

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

Does Cannabis Improve Athletic Performance? 

The simple answer is no. There is 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 enhance athletic performance. The study compares athletes’ experience running on a treadmill sober and after consuming cannabis. 

80 percent of cannabis users mix cannabis and exercise. 

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

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

The euphoric experience associated with cannabis draws comparisons to a ‘runner’s high,’ which could increase workout motivation and enjoyment. 

One of the participants in the University of Colorado study believes that consuming cannabis before working out helps bring on the experience of a runner’s high earlier in the workout than without cannabis.  

Photo by Elsa Olofsson on Unsplash

Cannabis and Workout Recovery

We know that cannabis can aid in workout recovery by managing pain and inflammation and assisting in sleep. 

Learn more about how to use cannabis for workout recovery

Final Thoughts on Cannabis and Athletic Performance

Cannabis does not appear to enhance athletic performance and athletes worldwide 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 prohibited substances list. However, as previously noted, safety needs consideration.

For athletes who are not limited by professional governing bodies, cannabis may help improve motivation and enjoyment of working out alongside supporting recovery.

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