Cannabis and Fitness: Is Cannabis and Athletic Performance a Controversial Combination?

by Henrik Aulbach08.08.2023Knowledge

The German government's push for legalization has sparked a heated debate surrounding cannabis consumption. Recurring questions focus on youth protection, passive consumption, protected areas, driver's license regulations, and now, even sports. We aim to answer the questions regarding the effects of cannabis on sports.

Famous Athletes Who Consume Cannabis

Before delving into the debate, let's take a look at famous professional athletes who have incorporated cannabis into their careers. One notable example is Connor McGregor, who openly smokes hemp in Backwoods cigars on the internet. Similarly, the brothers, Nick und Nate Diaz, from the world of combat sports, are well-known advocates for cannabis. In Germany, the NFL player Calvin Johnson, who has smoked marijuana after many games, is relatively unknown. He is joined by his colleagues Michael Vick and Randy Moss.

In the American NBA, cannabis consumption is reportedly even more common. According to an interview with former player Kenyon Martin, around 85% of athletes consume weed during their careers. Snoop Dogg, a successful rapper and former basketball player, is also known to be associated with cannabis. Another familiar name is Mike Tyson, who has transitioned from combat sports to the cannabis industry and indulges in joints daily. Thus, we can see that cannabis and fitness are not mutually exclusive.

Cannabis Consumers and Athletic Performance: The Facts

Is cannabis a performance-enhancing drug?

This question can provide us with a fundamental understanding of the effects of cannabis in sports. In 2013, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) significantly raised the threshold for THC-carboxylic acid in blood serum, setting the limit at 150 nanograms per milliliter on the day of competition. Furthermore, in 2018, cannabidiol (CBD) was completely removed from the list of prohibited substances. It is, therefore, incorrect to classify cannabis as a performance-enhancing drug, a notion supported by several studies. Cannabis is considered a doping substance primarily due to its psychoactive effects.

However, how can cannabis still help athletes? And to what extent does it affect performance? To answer these questions, we need to delve into several studies.

Let's examine a study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder, titled "The New Runner's High?". The study focuses on 600 cannabis consumers and their exercise habits. Eight out of ten participants reported consuming cannabis either before or after exercising. It's important to note that cannabis is legal in Colorado. The researchers found that a significant number of participants consumed cannabis to motivate themselves for sports. Additionally, it was observed that participants who consumed cannabis engaged in physical activity for an average of 43 minutes longer per week than the sober comparison group. It appears that marijuana can serve as an effective motivator for sports, countering the myth of amotivational syndrome.

Being "high" during a training session can dampen pain perception, similar to the well-known "runner's high". This feeling of euphoria is actually triggered by the body's endocannabinoids, such as anandamide. While cannabis may not make one faster, it can temporarily make running feel subjectively easier or more effortless. Cannabis may positively influence pain perception, but it may also impair performance due to increased blood pressure and heart rate. The ratio of THC to CBD in cannabis and the chosen method of consumption are also crucial factors. Higher levels of THC may contribute to side effects such as an elevated heart rate.

The role of cannabis in post-exercise recovery remains uncertain. Many athletes use cannabis for relaxation after training sessions, which may help muscles loosen and relax, ultimately optimizing muscle recovery. Other studies suggest that THC in the bloodstream may disrupt muscle mass regeneration, attributed to an increased cortisol level. Since cortisol is a catabolic hormone that breaks down muscles, it can be disadvantageous in sports and bodybuilding.

However, the most crucial phase of recovery is sleep. There is clear evidence that cannabis, including CBD, can improve sleep quality. Various aspects can be improved, such as sleep onset latency or uninterrupted sleep. This, in turn, can support muscle building during the night.

Studies on the effects of cannabis on focus and concentration yield conflicting results. Some studies suggest that the risk of injuries may increase due to decreased focus, while others conclude that cannabis consumption can improve concentration and rapid decision-making during competitions. Thus, uncertainty remains in this area as well.

Caution Regarding Cannabis Consumption in Sports

Despite the praise, it is essential to consider the risks of consuming cannabis during sports activities, as these risks vary depending on the individual's experience level.

Beginners often complain of dizziness, increased heart rate, or feeling lightheaded when attempting to achieve new performance highs while under the influence of cannabis. This is often due to the fact that cannabis generally increases heart rate in most people. When combined with exercise, it can lead to overexertion. Misjudgment of one's own strength reserves is also possible, leading to severe overexertion. Especially in hot temperatures or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), caution should be exercised, and individuals should gradually assess the effects of cannabis consumption. If you are exercising while high for the first time, start with light exercises.

Furthermore, cannabis can impair motor skills. For activities that require maximum coordination and focus, such as downhill biking, cannabis consumption may be undesirable. On the other hand, it may help others by improving focus and body awareness.

As a general rule, it is important to approach sports activities with cannabis slowly and safely. Dangerous sports should never be practiced while under the influence of cannabis. Cannabis can potentially reduce physical performance, limit movement patterns, and increase risk-taking behavior.

Exercising While High: Your THC Workout Guide

For some sports enthusiasts, cannabis may be a means to overcome the inner "couch potato." It doesn't necessarily have to be consumed before exercise; a joint as a reward afterward may suffice. Remember to allow your heart rate to settle before smoking a joint after exercise. It is also important for inexperienced individuals who want to incorporate THC into their workouts to start slowly and safely. If you have never used cannabis before, it is not advisable to begin your exercise routine while high. Individuals with heart conditions or similar pre-existing conditions are not recommended to consume cannabis in any way.

Additionally, please remember to drink more water as cannabis consumption can cause additional dehydration. Furthermore, refrain from engaging in coordination-dependent sports such as fencing, as this can lead to mishaps.

If you have never smoked cannabis before, start with CBD. Choose your preferred form, from flowers to oils to edibles. Due to potential lung irritation, oils and edibles are particularly recommended.

Also, keep in mind that each form of administration, dosage, and strain has its own characteristics. You can experiment with low doses and light forms of consumption to determine what works best for you in combining cannabis with sports. A few puffs from a vape are usually better than hits from a bong before exercise. Additionally, a balanced ratio of CBD toTHC is desirable for sports activities.

Marijuana and Muscle Building: Special Hemp Products

Apart from CBD and THC, there are numerous hemp products available for sports enthusiasts. Particularly, (candied) hemp seeds, hemp protein powder, hemp oils, hemp flour, and hemp teas can be helpful. Hemp oils, for example, boast an excellent ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Hemp proteins are versatile and of high quality. Hemp flour can serve as a protein-rich alternative to other types of flour.

Conclusion: Cannabis is not Doping

To conclude, it is evident that cannabis does not enhance performance. Using the example of the runner's high, we can see that cannabis or cannabinoids do not improve performance but may simply make it easier. However, it can also have the opposite effect and make performance more challenging.

Based on current studies, one relatively certain conclusion is that the combination of cannabis consumption and sports can deepen one's exercise habits. While non-patients may struggle more to overcome their inner resistance to exercise, patients have cannabis as a motivator at their disposal.

There is ongoing debate regarding whether cannabis promotes recovery, such as by improving sleep quality or stimulating post-workout appetite. The studies in this area are not yet conclusive enough to make definitive statements.

The ultimate conclusion of this article is: Do what feels right for you! Some individuals may find themselves less motivated for sports with cannabis consumption, while others may find it beneficial. While jogging may feel effortless to some when high, others may feel immobile. Therefore, you can only determine whether cannabis is helpful for you or not. Hemp supplements can be beneficial regardless, especially hemp proteins and hemp oils. However, it is clear that cannabis and fitness are no longer such a controversial combination and indeed deserve recognition.


Written by Henrik Aulbach

Henrik Aulbach is a published cannabis specialist author with a passion for medicine, chemistry, and cannabinoids. Through Weed!, he contributes to breaking stigmas and myths surrounding the green gold and increasing the availability of cannabis medications for patients.


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