Athletes Are Using Cannabis as a Training Tool

Using cannabis before, during, and after training is becoming increasingly popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Despite federal prohibition and marijuana’s ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and the NCAA, it’s not uncommon for professional athletes and serious exercise enthusiasts to augment their training with cannabis. Using cannabis before, during, or after training, athletes claim, reduces anxiety, improves focus, helps manage pain, and facilitates healing and recovery.

As cannabis is classified a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, regulations make it difficult for any meaningful research to be conducted. However, research has established cannabis as an effective pain-relieving agent and has shown it to improve sleep, which could facilitate recovery and healing. Cannabis use has been associated with a lower body fat percentage, suggesting that it may impact metabolic function. Studies have also shown that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive compound found in cannabis, does cause bronchodilation, which suggests it could help athletes improve airflow to the lungs. Still, clinical research backing cannabis’ physical training benefits are lacking.

Anecdotal evidence and personal case studies, on the other hand, suggest that marijuana may be useful for athletes. Former Olympic Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati previously told The Washington Post that he would use marijuana when training to improve his focus, claiming that it helped him maintain a high level of performance during repetitious workouts. Outdoor Magazine writer Gordy Megroz recruited a physiologist and performed his own fitness tests and discovered that using marijuana caused a “substantial performance gain” in a high-intensity treadmill test and observed less soreness following heavy lifting workouts. Earlier this year, The Guardian wrote about marijuana use becoming increasingly common among long-distance runners. A fitness gym opening later this year in San Francisco will allow members to use marijuana products while working out.

Triathlete Cliff Drusinsky told Men’s Fitness a similar story of improved performance with cannabis use, claiming that using edibles before workouts improved his focus.

“My mind is always all over the place, I can get caught up in what’s going on around me,” he said. “Weed helps me keep my mind focused, if you can imagine that.” Drusinsky also used a topical containing cannabidiol (CBD), a major cannabinoid found in cannabis, and rubs it on his muscles following workouts, which he believes helps in recovery.

Former and current players of the National Football League are actively encouraging the league to reconsider its ban on marijuana, arguing that studies suggest cannabis is a safer pain reliever than prescription opioids and can help prevent and treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease that develops in contact-sport athletes. UFC president Dana White has said he estimates 84 percent of UFC fighters, which are highly susceptible to blows to the head, use cannabis.

Many American athletes and exercise enthusiasts using cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation because they believe it augments their training are knowingly breaking the law. As of now, marijuana is illegal for adult use in the U.S. except for in the four states (ColoradoWashingtonOregon, and Alaska) and Washington D.C., which have passed legislation allowing recreational cannabis use.

In the 25 states that have adopted medical marijuana laws, athletic performance enhancement isn’t covered as a condition, meaning athletes may have to wait to become injured before they can access marijuana. However, CBD hemp oil products, extracted from hemp and containing little to no THC, are available in all 50 states and in over 40 countries worldwide and, because they are non-psychoactive, offer a safer alternative during strenuous activity like weight training.