Cannabis: A Performance Enhancing Drug?

Stoners have long had a reputation of being lazy bunch who like to sit on their couch all day, consume an entire family sized bags of Doritos Chips while crushing a TV marathon. What if I told you that some may actually consider cannabis a performance enhancer rather than a couch potato drug. With the recent legalization in many states numerous esteemed elite athletes have come forward and said they have consumed or still regularly consume various cannabis products before their workouts. This group of stoners has always been an especially underground bunch due to the various regulations’ athletic organizations have on the use of the drug nevertheless many are being to come forward. This seems incredibly odd considering the claimed side effects of consuming the drug, such as slower reaction time, don’t seem to be very performance enhancing. Regardless many, especially those involved in endurance sports, claim it’s actually very helpful for them. This begs the question then is cannabis a performance-enhancing drug?

Elite Triathlete Clifford Drusinsky

The athletic community was shocked in 1998 when Olympic snowboarder Ross Rebagliati tested positive for marijuana after he won gold in the snowboard slalom event. This sparked an interesting question in the media; does using cannabis for competition give you an unfair advantage? Legendary Robin Williams joked after the incident, “the only way it’s (cannabis) a performance-enhancing drug is if there’s a big fucking Hershey bar at the end of the run.” At the time cannabis wasn’t included on the Olympic committees banned substances list so his gold medal remained legit and he began to pave a road for many athletes to use cannabis while performing in their respected sports.

Ross Rebagliati with his gold metal in a marijuana grow

Rebagliati after his career would go on to talk about how he smoked pot regularly during his professional career even for some competitions. However, since the incident the Olympics and many other organizations have changed the regulations behind cannabis use especially during competition. The World Anti-Doping Association bans the drug from use during competition citing that the drug decreases anxiety and can be considered a bronchodilator, which increases airflow to the lungs. On the flip side of spectrum Don Catlin who founded the UCLA Olympic Analytic Laboratory says, “You can find some people who argue that marijuana has performance-enhancing characteristics. They are few and far between… It’s seen more as a drug of abuse than as a drug of performance enhancement.” So the jury is still out about the official feelings about cannabis used in competition but one thing is probably for certain, it will remain on the banned substances list for Olympic competition due to the very pure nature the Olympics wants its athletes to uphold.

What then is the appeal for these athletes like Rebagliati to consume some cannabis before hitting the slope for competition? Outside Magazine’s Gordy Megroz did some personal investigating for his article “Can Pot Make You a Better Athlete?” Some of his close friends who remained unnamed for the article but were supposedly “really good skiers” said they could feel the snow better after consuming some cannabis, which make sense considering the drug activates different parts of your brain heightening your senses. He says one day before skiing he decided to consume a 10mg edible before hitting the slopes to see what his friends were on about. He said on the small dose his high was mild but also very functional and gave him this feeling of invincibility on the mountain, attacking steepest and most technical lines without fear. Perhaps this is what Rebagliati feels when he races in snowboard slalom, a very high speed intense winter sport. I decided to look deeper into this and interviewed a friend at DU who is a seasoned skiing who’s family lives in Frisco, Colorado just outside of Keystone and Breckenridge ski resorts. This student who asked to remain unnamed said when he smokes weed before hitting the mountain he doesn’t feel that invincibility, “I like to smoke before chiller days of skiing… I feel much more relaxed but don’t feel the desire to attack the tougher more technical parts of the mountain.” So I guess there are many factors since drugs affect everyone slightly differently and also could have a lot to do with how much each athlete is consuming.

The athletes that seem to be most fond of the drug for improving performance are actually endurance athletes specifically ultra-marathoners. Avery Collin’s, a 22-year-old professional ultramarathoner, praises the use of cannabis for his extremely grueling training, “If you can find the right level, [marijuana] takes the stress out of running.” Ultramarathoning is a truly grueling sport, races can last anywhere from 30 to 200 miles! Runners go through intense pains in their joints and muscles and many lose motivation mid race from what seems to be a death sentence of a sport. “The person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm,” said veteran runner Jenn Shelton. “Pot does all three of those things.” Dr. Lynn Webster, founder of the Lifetree Pain Clinic in Salt Lake City also claims, “There’s good science that suggests cannabinoids block the physical input of pain.” So it only makes sense then that so many within the community use it not only during their races but also after.

In states that have legalized cannabis consuming before training has become a major trend. Elite triathlete Clifford Drusinsky takes a 20 mg edible energy bar before he starts his work out at 3am and claims, “When I get high, I train smarter and focus on form.” Drusinsky also owns a gym in Denver, Colorado F.I.T.S. Condition where he preaches the use of cannabis for training. Inviting his clients to indulge in his energy bar edibles before dynamic stretching and TRX drills. The clients give him high praise for it too like Chad White who says, “If I take a little bit before heavy training, I am totally dialed in.”

It’s great that now cannabis is really being normalized especially in states like Colorado where the image has completely changed from the “fried egg” ads from the 1980’s stoner to elite athletes. Is cannabis a performance enhancer? My answer would be maybe, through personal experience that’s a firm no I all about the couch and Game of Thrones. Nevertheless many seem to really have some great results from it so I’d say it depends on the person, how much you consume, what activity your participating in. Regardless if your looking for a way to spice up your training routine it cant hurt to give it a shot (It won’t kill you I promise).

Reference:

Dreier, Frederick. “The Debate Over Running While High.”WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.

Marijuana Nation: The Legalization of Cannabis across the USA. Associated, 2015. Print.

Megroz, Gordy. “Can Pot Make You a Better Athlete?” Outside Online. 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

Warner, Joel. “Get High, Train Harder.” Mensjournal.com. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.