“US Olympic track star Sha’Carri Richardson
suspended for months after testing positive
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
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
The ancient Olympics in Greece had doping
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
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
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
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
There are three criteria:
And if the substance violates the spirit of
If a substance meets at least two of the three,
it gets banned.
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
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
But there is also a flip side.
Athletes use cannabis to manage pain, sleep
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
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!