Published on: 25/08/2023
SOME PROMISING STUDIES SHOW POSITIVE EFFECTS OF LEGAL CANNABIS USE ON PERFORMANCE, BUT MORE ROBUST DATA IS NEEDED
What effects can cannabis (derivated by cannabis seeds) use have on physical performance, and is physical activity affected or enhanced in any way?
Some studies seem to show promising results, and the accounts of many athletes who use it seem to confirm this, but the evidence is not yet strong enough to authorize professional cannabis use.
Cannabis and physical activity: what the research says
The first answers to the question we asked at the beginning come from research, which study after study is assessing the impact of cannabis (derivated by marijuana seeds) intake on performance.
For example, with regard to two key parameters such as muscle recovery and endurance, a 2021 review showed the potential of cannabis with a high CBD content: its use seems very promising for recovery during training and competition, as in addition to allowing rapid recovery, it would be free of significant side effects, unlike tests conducted with cannabis with a high THC content.
Endurance also seems to be improved by cannabis, although the results are less robust: a review in the Journal of Cannabis Research showed that pain reduction is the most pronounced effect of cannabis use for sporting activity, because it can lead the athlete to continue even in suboptimal conditions. On the other hand, when it comes to oxygen consumption and physical work capacity, the review showed no real improvements from cannabis use.
Less robust evidence also comes from a review some time ago, published in Sport Medicine, which looked at the effects of CBD on factors such as sleep, stress, pain and anxiety on sports performance: it is true that the substance seems to have positive effects on physiological and cognitive functions in athletes, but more robust data is needed.
A more recent study, conducted by the University of Sydney, put people addicted to both cannabis use and exercise on an exercise bike. Participants had to cycle for 35 minutes at a high pace after a day of abstinence from cannabis use. The research revealed a peculiar phenomenon: the participants’ blood THC levels increased by about 15%.
That said about the research, the truth is that we have several anecdotal testimonies from athletes who tell us how cannabis improved their performance.
One of the most curious testimonies is that of journalist Josiah Hesse, author of the book Runner’s High: How a Movement of Cannabis-Fueled Athletes is Changing the Science of Sports, who told how he ran effortlessly up a hill after taking a cannabis edible, feeling that he weighed very little and that he was not an experienced runner: on the contrary, running seemed boring and tiring.
In the book, the author talks about a kind of cannabis culture even among professional athletes, a well-hidden “passion” to avoid problems: some use it to stimulate appetite, others to reduce pain or sleep more soundly.
Even an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) athlete, Nate Diaz, has stated that he takes CBD in the form of a ‘vape’ because, according to him, it helps him against inflammation and during healing.
In this regard, CBD oil is known to have positive effects on several aspects of health: it is anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and anxiolytic, and it also helps to recover from injuries.
As proof of this, there is research published in 2019 by the journal PLOS One that brought to light a fact to reflect on: 26% of athletes recruited through the web among cyclists, runners and even triathletes claimed to regularly take fast flowering flowers of cannabis in various forms; of these, up to 70% said they benefited from it, for example to reduce pain or improve rest anxiety and performance.
Another study, conducted by the University of Colorado, examined the behavior and habits of athletes who regularly used cannabis. Respondents reported regular use during training (80%) and greater satisfaction with training after use (70%). In addition, about 80% reported that cannabis helped recovery after physical exertion.
Although the scientific evidence is not yet conclusive, anecdotal testimonies from professional (and non-professional) athletes are numerous.
To be fair, it must be said that some studies point to some negative effects of cannabis on sports performance: for example, the acceleration of the heart rate and the increase in blood pressure can reduce rather than improve performance. However, the same argument applies as for the (many) studies that show benefits: wait for research with even more solid data.
Why legal cannabis could be useful for sporting activity in the future
Some studies that have highlighted the negative effects of cannabis and weed seeds on physical activity, even in professional athletes, are marked by a kind of bias against the substance itself, analyzing the problems associated with its use and not so much the patterns of consumption and physiological reactions.
Although we have said that the studies are not yet very solid, the properties of cannabis for medical use are known. If taken in a controlled way, cannabis could have a positive impact on the physical and psychological performance of professional and amateur athletes: studies are encouraging in this respect.
If prejudice does not fall like an ax on the substance itself, the use of cannabis, with a controlled and regulated active ingredient and in the form of a “supplement” rather than “doping“, could be an excellent combination in the future. But there is still some way to go.
Read also: This is the meaning of the term ‘Kush’
Some promising studies shed light on the effects of cannabis on physical activity, although robust data and, more importantly, studies on adverse effects are lacking.
However, given the substance’s qualities, legal cannabis – especially in the form of CBD oil and supplements – could also be useful for athletes to recover faster, sleep better, reduce pain and aid healing.
Time, but especially scientific research, will tell us more.
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