Why Athletes Smoke Weed

“US Olympic track star Sha’Carri Richardson

suspended for months after testing positive

for Marijuana.”

Most of the NBA, NFL and at least half the

players in the NHL use cannabis – according

to player reports.

And not only professional athletes.

A recent study found that more than 80% of

cannabis users like to work out!

It turns out that the traditional image of

cannabis users is nothing but a cliché.

But is everything we thought we knew about

cannabis and sport wrong?

With the legalization of Marijuana in more

and more countries and the ban of American

sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson for the Tokyo

Olympics, this has become a hotly debated


So can Marijuana make you a better athlete?

Welcome to Athletic Interest.

Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, and the Russian

track and field team are not the first to

get caught cheating.

The use of drugs in sports is as old as sports


Scandinavian mythology says Berserkers would

drink a mixture called “butotens” that increased

their physical power – with a slight risk

of insanity.

They would literally go berserk by biting

into their shields and gnawing at their skin

before launching into battle, killing anything

in their path.

The secret recipe apparently included fly

agaric mushrooms…

The ancient Olympics in Greece had doping

as well.

Even in 700 BC there was an awareness that

higher testosterone levels would increase


So athletes back then ate animal hearts and

testicles in search of potency.

Injectable Liquid Hormones were not available


As this ancient Greek physician put it:

“For it is the semen, which makes us to

be men, hot, well braced in limbs, well voiced,

spirited, strong to think and act.”

When cheaters were caught, they were banned

for life and shamed on Twitter.

Wait, that’s not right.

Their names – plus their families – were inscribed

on stone pedestals in the entranceway to the

stadium for the public to see.

So basically the Twitter of the time.

Also in ancient Rome, athletes drank herbal

infusions to strengthen themselves before

chariot races.

So herbs were already a thing back then.

But just as it is questionable if animal hearts

increase your performance, it is not at all

clear that cannabis will.

So why is it banned?

The debate was reignited among elite athletes

when Sha’Carri Richardson was denied a spot

at the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive

for marijuana.

Many comments back then were along the lines

of ‘Why is she banned if Marijuana is now

legal in most states?!?!”.

That’s a pretty weak argument.

In elite sports, it doesn’t matter if a

substance is legal or illegal.

The only thing that matters is if it is banned

by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

In fact, there are a bunch of very legal substances

that can get you into serious trouble as an

elite athlete.

A big fat piece of poppy seed cake, for example,

might cause you a positive doping test.

Because poppy seeds contain morphine and that’s

on the list of banned substances.

And so is cannabis.

But how does the World anti-doping agency,

also called WADA, decide what makes it on

that list?

There are three criteria:

Performance Enhancement.

Health Risk.

And if the substance violates the spirit of


If a substance meets at least two of the three,

it gets banned.

Sounds simple.

But when applying the list to

Cannabis, you’ll soon find out that there

are some surprises.

Marijuana was added to the list of banned

substances after a Canadian gold medalist

tested positive for the drug in 1998.

Although marijuana is prohibited by WADA,

there’s little scientific evidence that

it can make you a bigger, stronger or faster


If anything, cannabis has a reputation for

decreasing athletic performance.

Early studies have shown that cannabis can

spike heart rates, increase blood pressure

and thereby hamper the ability to exercise.

There might be some objective but minor physical

benefits of cannabis in certain sports.

In the Olympic sport of archery, alcohol is

banned from competitions because it could

help to steady the hand.

Cannabis could potentially offer a similar


But there is no real data to support that.

However, WADA came to a different conclusion

based on a study from 2011 on Cannabis in


The authors argue that Cannabis smoking reduces

anxiety, allowing athletes to better perform

under pressure and alleviate stress before

and during competition.

The paper draws on a handful of previous scientific

studies, citing for example a certain Dr.

Wagner who described cannabis as “ergogenic”,

which means performance-enhancing.

But here’s the problem.

Dr. Wagner says he never wrote that!

“That was like a throwaway line (…). I

didn’t imagine it would have an impact in

the world of Olympics.”

That brings us to one of the main problems.

Anecdotally, cannabis sounds like a miracle


But until recently it was illegal in most

countries and that made it difficult to research

in a lab-controlled setting.

So there’s a lot of talk but not enough


Even the 2011 WADA study states that “much

more scientific information is needed”.

Luckily, more scientific information is available


Two new independent papers from 2020 come

to a different conclusion than WADA.

Cannabis “does not act as a sport performance-enhancing

agent as raised by popular beliefs.”

and should be avoided prior to exercise in

order to maximize performance.

We have to take a quick excursion from the

performance enhancing question now to talk

about a really surprising finding in the latest

cannabis research.

Users of cannabis have quite a reputation.

Turns out, that’s nothing but clichés.

A study found out that people who frequently

use cannabis also seem to be people who frequently


And we’re not talking about bowling.

It gets even better.

About 70 percent who report using cannabis

before or after a workout believe that it

makes their exercise more enjoyable.

The author says that the findings should not

be seen as an endorsement to work out when


But they do suggest that some of the ideas

about cannabis and lifestyle may be outdated.

So science says that cannabis might increase

your enjoyment, but not your performance.

No check for the first of the three criteria.

What about the second one?

This is the Wikipedia article about the long

term effects of cannabis.

And this is its revision history.

It gets changed all the time, because there

are so many opinions.

Much in the debate about cannabis is more

belief than it is fact.

There’s a lot of evangelism going on and

we don’t want to get lost in it.

So here’s a quick summary.

There are some potential health concerns surrounding


For example damage to lungs and the risk of

developing psychoses.

But there is also a flip side.

Athletes use cannabis to manage pain, sleep

and anxiety.

Often, instead of pain killers.

The misuse of opioid pain medications is a

big issue, especially in the NFL.

Some players use cannabis as a natural substitute


Cowboys’ Shaun Smith admitted that he smoked

two blunts before every game in an interview

with Bleacher Report in 2019.

“When I smoke, I can focus and actually

do the job I have.

I feel like nobody can stop me when I was

out there.”

Maybe the question is not so much if there

are health risks in general, but whether cannabis

has a higher health risk for elite athletes

than tobacco or alcohol – which are both not

banned by WADA.

The idea that cannabis might not be as harmful

as alcohol is common.

According to the Centers for Disease Control,

one in 10 deaths in working-age adults in

the US is due to excessive alcohol use.

In comparison, deaths caused by cannabis are

not even tracked.

Because there has never been one.

The trend is that more and more countries

and states are legalizing cannabis.

Which has a direct impact on the last of the

three criteria we need to talk about: the

spirit of sports.

This is even more difficult to assess than

the first two.

We are not talking about scientific facts

but rather about ethics.

So is it unethical to allow athletes to use


The WADA study from 2011 argues that cannabis

is an illegal substance in most of the world

and therefore “believes that the role model

of athletes in modern society is intrinsically

incompatible with use or abuse of cannabis.”

But cannabis is no longer illegal in large

parts of the world.

The laws changed.

And our laws are basically the written code

and rules that we all agree on.

Fundamentally, laws rely on what society thinks

is the right thing to do and what not.

If society decides that Cannabis is no longer

illegal, then athletes consuming it are no

longer bad role models and it is no longer

logical to say it is against the spirit of


So from the three criteria, we cannot even

answer one with a clear yes.

Can marijuana make you a better athlete?

No, probably not.

It might increase enjoyment, but there is

no evidence that it increases performance.

More and more leagues are acknowledging this

and loosening their rules.

It’s not only about ethics but also about


Cannabis is a huge business opportunity.

Professional sports already make billions

with alcohol endorsements, so it could be

only a matter of time before the leagues also

embrace the lucrative cannabis industry.

If you’re marketing a supplement, who better

to sell it than someone who looks like the

very picture of health?!

It’s kind of ironic: the same companies

that lobby to allow cannabis in sports because

there is no scientific evidence of enhancing

performance will be the first one to claim

that it will make you a better athlete when

selling their supplements.

So this video is sponsored by ‘insert random

CBD brand here’.

Just kidding, this video is not sponsored

by anyone, so smash that like button and subscribe

if you enjoyed it!