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Cannabis Use in Sports: A Growing Trend Among Athletes

Cannabis use in sports has been an increasingly talked about topic in recent years. With the legalization of marijuana in many states, the question of whether athletes should be allowed to use cannabis has become more pressing.

Some athletes claim that cannabis can help with pain relief and anxiety, a crucial piece in removing painkillers from athletes regiments. Others argue that it reduces their processing speed and fast twitch ability. 

Research and social media have shown that a significant number of athletes use cannabis, but the effects on athletic performance are still unclear as research has been largely illegal for the last 50 years.

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Some studies have suggested that THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, can impair reaction time, coordination, and decision-making skills but there are more studies needed. However, other research has shown that cannabis can have positive effects on recovery and pain relief, which could be beneficial for athletes.

Athletes experience tons of pain and traditionally have turned to painkillers that have very addictive properties. Each sport and its respective league seem to have slightly different takes and rules surrounding the plant. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) currently prohibits the use of cannabis in sports and competitions, but some experts argue that it should not be banned. They argue that cannabis does not meet the criteria for performance-enhancing drugs and that it should be treated like alcohol or tobacco.

High-profile cases like this can be seen in the Olympics.  As the debate continues, it is important to examine the potential benefits and drawbacks of cannabis use in sports and to consider the impact on athlete health and performance. It’s also important that these leagues consider all the measures around cannabis including use, sponsorships, investments, and more. 

Cannabis Use in Sports: Benefits, Sponsors, And Risks

Cannabis use has become increasingly popular among athletes, both for recreational and medical purposes. However, sports medicine clinicians should be aware of the potential benefits and risks of cannabis use in the athletic community.

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Benefits of Cannabis Use in Sports

Cannabis has been reported to have several potential benefits for athletes. These include:

  • Pain Relief: Cannabis has been reported to have pain-relieving properties, which can be beneficial for athletes dealing with chronic pain due to physical injuries or exercise-related soreness. THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, is known to have pain-relieving effects and is commonly used to treat the pain of chemotherapy in cancer patients.

  • Improved Sleep: Cannabis has been reported to improve sleep quality, which can be beneficial for athletes who need adequate rest for muscle recovery and overall health. CBD, a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, has been reported to have sleep-enhancing properties as well.

  • Reduced Anxiety: Cannabis has been reported to have anxiolytic properties, which many athletes experience on a daily basis. CBD, in particular, has been reported to have anxiolytic effects.
Credits: DepositPhotos

Cannabis Sports Sponsors

Although many of the top sports leagues have stopped testing for cannabis in their athletes, most still ban sports stars from promoting any cannabis brands. This is the case we see in the NBA, where they allow players to invest in cannabis brands but not technically promote them. For example, if an NBA player wanted to invest in a water pipe or smoking accessory brand, they would not be able to promote that brand in any way.

Cannabis and hemp typically get grouped together when talked about. Sports leagues, much like CVS and other pharmacies are starting to treat these two differently. Kansas City Royals, an MLB team has become the second MLB team to partner with a CBD beverage brand. Although CBD doesn’t contain the same psychoactive compounds THC does, this is a step into normalizing hemp and cannabis in the sports world. 

Risks of Cannabis Use in Sports

While cannabis use may have potential benefits for athletes, it also comes with several risks. These include:

  • Impaired Focus: Cannabis use may impair focus and concentration, which can be detrimental to the athletes level of performance. THC, in particular, has been reported to have impairing effects on cognitive function, a main reason it is illegal to drive high.

  • Anti-Doping Regulations: Cannabis is STILL prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is included on the prohibited list for most sports leagues. Athletes who test positive for cannabis use can face disciplinary action, including suspension or disqualification.

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While cannabis use may have potential benefits for athletes, it also comes with several risks that should be carefully considered by the athletes and their medical providers.

Athletes should be aware of the anti-doping regulations and potential drug testing depending on the sports league they take part in.

Sports medicine clinicians should also be informed of the potential benefits and risks of cannabis use in the athletic community.

While most leagues seem to be easing their stance on cannabis, there are still several that have a long way to go to normalize the plant in their community. 

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