Marijuana can relieve pain and improve athletic recovery. Athletes are openly using marijuana for pain relief and as a non-performance-boosting recovery aid, but it’s still illegal in sports.
It’s benefits—physical and mental, pre- and post-workout. Users experience mild, short-term euphoria but also, at times, anxiety, thanks to a cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC.
28 states including the District of Columbia have made marijuana medicinally or recreationally legal, and over 60% of American citizens support the legalization of pot. It is with no surprise that numerous athletes are advocating their personal usage for “weed workouts” and cannabis enhanced recovery products. This list consists of, but not limited to professional football, basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey players, martial artists, endurance athletes and even Olympic competitors.
In the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron seven-time Mr. Olympia winner Arnold Schwarzenegger is shown enthusiastically smoking a joint. UFC commentator and black belt, Joe Rogan recently blogged “Getting high and working out is one of the least talked about and least appreciated pleasures of fitness”. While smoking a CBD-loaded vape pen during a press conference after UFC 202 last August, Nate Diaz, a professional trained fighter for the UFC said, “It helps with the healing process and inflammation. “So you want to get these before and after the fights, training. It’ll make your life a better place.” Diaz uses to treat his concussion symptoms and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has become a major issue in the NFL. 2006 Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis uses for his hip pain and Steve Kerr the coach of Golden State Warriors in the NBA, has admitted to using for his back pain. “I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin, yet athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s vitamin C, like it’s no big deal. There’s this perception that over-the-counter drugs are fine and pot is bad. I think that’s changing” stated Kerr.
While some players don’t use, and some do, but keep it “hush-hush”, there are many advocates amongst retired athletes that now openly admit to what works. Cliff Robinson, a retired NBA, has started his own line of cannabis products called “Uncle Spliffy”. His goal is to assist athletes in preparation and recovery using his products. Ricky Williams, a former running back in the NFL, who “took time off from the NFL because he admitted to smoking pot” made statements at an Arc View Investor forum. He noted the frequent uses of prescription pain medicines like Ambien or Oxycontin. He went on to say, “Cannabis is effective and safer than the addictive opioids the teams are giving us.” Another is Kyle Turley, a former lineman for the NFL has created Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, designed to help with sports related injuries, and he claims depression from being addicted to pain pills had him on the brink of suicide. His organizations also runs a number of treatment centers.
Cannabis is an analgesic, helping to alleviate pain both during and after exercise. Both CBD and THC are extremely effective in managing inflammation post exercise. Cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory agents and they exert their effects through induction of apoptosis, inhibition of cell proliferation, suppression of cytokine production and induction of T-regulatory cells (Tregs). Cannabinoids are known to have both relaxing and sedative effects on users. In fact, cannabis with concentrations of CBN approaching 1% by weight can be useful in treating insomnia. Getting the required sleep each night is perhaps the most important aspect of being a healthy athlete – muscles grow and recover best during deep sleep. Cannabis has anti-emetic effects, helping athletes reduce nausea during and after exercise. In fact, many studies have shown that for treating nausea and vomiting, cannabinoids are more effective than older medications such as phenothiazines (e.g., Stemetil®) or antihistamines (e.g., Dramamine®). Cannabinoids are known to have antispasmodic properties. Some causes of muscle spasms in athletes include straining of a muscle, dehydration, trauma, and damage to nerves or to the spinal cord. Cannabis is a safe way to stimulate appetite. Power lifters, MMA fighters, and other athletes with demanding eating regimens often find that cannabis encourages them to take in more calories than they might have otherwise. Cannabis increases the levels of two key hunger-regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin, without significantly altering insulin levels. In several studies CBD has been shown to decrease inflammation while offering protection for the heart, lungs, and brain during and after injury. In fact, the short-term neuroprotective effects of CBD in the brain continue to be researched for purposes of treating sports concussions.
Professional sports organizations have made strict policies about anti drug use and mandatory testing, mainly because of public perception. That hurts their pockets. They are afraid consumers will judge their athletes as criminals and the public will think the player will not be able to perform. These drug policy suspensions put an unfortunate burden on athletes whom often push themselves to the limit for the sake of their team and many turn to opioids, alcohol and other narcotics just to get through the pain. As many as 80 percent of pro athletes likely still use cannabis despite risking suspension, but given the therapeutic potential of cannabis therapy for athletes (not to mention the huge amount of physical risk they take for the sake of our entertainment), blocking access to cannabis in sports seems both counterproductive and unfair to athletes and their families.
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