Can Marijuana Make You a Better Athlete?

In a 2019 study published in the journal PLOS One, 26 percent of 1,161 self-identified athletes, mostly runners, cyclists, and triathletes, said they currently use cannabis. Some smoked it, others consumed it as an edible or rubbed it on their bodies as a cream. Around 70 percent of athletes said it helped them fall asleep or relieved pain caused by hard training and other activities. Almost 60 percent said it calmed them down.

In another 2019 survey, Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues recruited about 600 regular cannabis users and interviewed them about their use of the drug. Dr. Bryan suggested that cannabis would make people less physically active. But to their surprise, around half of the participants said that cannabis motivated them to exercise. More than 80 percent of cannabis users said they used it regularly during their exercise. Seventy percent said marijuana increased their enjoyment of exercise and about 80 percent said it helped them recover.

“It was a pretty strong relationship and it was quite common to use cannabis either before or after a workout,” said Dr. Bryan. Studies suggest that cannabis may help some people fall asleep faster, and there is modest but limited evidence from clinical trials that it relieves pain and inflammation. “It’s probably not surprising that people are using it in this context,” she added.

Research on cannabis and its effects on exercise has been largely limited by its status as a List 1 drug.

“State legal status means we can’t have it on campus, or prescribe it, or tell people what to use,” said Dr. Bryan. “We are not allowed to give them anything.”

Dr. Bryan’s ability to study more closely how cannabis affects exercise, metabolism, and inflammation is limited as she cannot bring people into her laboratory, give them something to eat, and conduct experiments on them.

However, she and her colleagues have found a way to get around this. With a mobile laboratory, they drive to people who regularly use cannabis, take blood samples from the subjects and perform tests on them before and after they have consumed the drug. “They tell us what they are using and then we quantify the THC and CBD in their blood for an objective value,” she said.

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