Can Marijuana Make You a Better Athlete?

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In a 2019 study published in the journal PLOS One, 26 percent of 1,161 self-identified athletes, mostly runners, cyclists and triathletes, reported that they were current users of cannabis. Some smoked it, while others consumed it as edibles or rubbed it on their bodies as creams. Around 70 percent of the athletes said that it helped them sleep or alleviated pain stemming from tough workouts and other activities. Almost 60 percent said that it calmed them down.

In another 2019 survey, Angela Bryan, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues recruited about 600 regular cannabis users and quizzed them on their use of the drug. Dr. Bryan suspected that cannabis would make people less physically active. But to her surprise, roughly half of the people in the study said that cannabis motivated them to exercise. More than 80 percent of cannabis users said that they regularly used it around the time of their workouts. Seventy percent said that marijuana increased their enjoyment of exercise, and roughly 80 percent said that it helped them recover.

“It was a pretty strong relationship and pretty common to use cannabis either before or after exercise,” Dr. Bryan said. Studies suggest that cannabis may help some people fall asleep faster, and there is modest but limited evidence from clinical trials that it reduces pain and inflammation. “It’s probably not surprising that people are using it in that context,” she added.

For the most part, research on cannabis and its effects on exercise has been somewhat limited by its status as a Schedule 1 drug.

“The federal legal status means that we can’t have it on campus or prescribe it or even tell people what to use,” Dr. Bryan said. “We are not allowed to give them anything.”

That has constrained Dr. Bryan’s ability to examine more closely how cannabis influences exercise, metabolic health and inflammation, since she cannot bring people to her lab, give them an edible and run experiments on them.

She and her colleagues, however, have devised a way to get around this. Using a mobile lab, they drive to the homes of people who regularly use cannabis, taking blood samples from the subjects and running tests on them before and after they use the drug. “They tell us what they use and then we quantify the THC and CBD in their blood for an objective level,” she said.

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