The impact of cannabis on athletic performance
Regulation and ease of accessability to cannabis products are improving at a rapid rate globally. This article aimed to investigate how cannabis use impacts overall performance in athletes.
Commonly reported benefits of cannabis include a positive impact on pain, reduction of side effects of cancer treatments and, most recently, concussion recovery.
While the active ingredient in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is thought to have a metabolic and neurological impact that can be used for medical purposes, it is still unclear what overall impact this has on sports performance.
Cannabis has been used for analgesic properties in a variety of clinical and recreational settings. This article further outlines how THC can impact the endocannabinoid systems (ECS) in the body (i.e., neurotransmitters that are able to react to the intake of THC and potentially play a role in pain perception, physiological processes and inflammation).
The authors of this article aimed to explore beyond the current trends in medical cannabis use and look specifically at athletic populations. While it is understood that recreational cannabis use can impair psychomotor skills and findings of increased heart rate and blood pressure and reduced overall work capacity may not be surprising, some populations do feel there are beneficial effects of cannabis use on athletic performances based on nociceptive changes.
Recent literature supports cannabis for improving sleep time and thus recovery following training, especially when facing several competitions in a short period of time. Other benefits cited include reducing anxiety and facilitating relaxation between trainings, and indirectly improving performance. Although these findings are highly variable depending on countries, as well as gender and sport types, skiing and surfing were the most common sport to use cannabis for these reasons.
This article offers more questions than answers around the use of cannabis within sports and the authors are quick to indicate limitations of this review, such as that it is not targeted to a single specific sport, that no objective characteristics regarding the competitive level of the sport are provided and that no quantitative data on the possible pain and sleep outcome measures in elite athletic groups are provided.
Nevertheless, this article does build on the existing known literature supporting the use of cannabis to improve neuropathic and centralised pain, as well as sleep management.
While this is a very preliminary analysis, it raises some interesting questions about what performance enhancement is. Athletes may be using cannabis not for what it can do for performance, but rather for recovery.
Considerably more research is needed to verify whether cannabis is helpful or harmful in cases of sleep/ mood management, and recovery from specific training. But as cannabis use becomes more easily accessible world-wide, treating clinicians should be aware of reasons why some athletes would consider cannabis use.
> From: Ware et al., Clin J Sport Med 28 (2018) 480-484. All rights reserved to Clin J Sport Med. Click here for the online summary.