As cannabis legalization continues to push forward in Canada and across various states in the US, the role that the drug plays in sports is expected to garner a lot more attention, with experts saying that cannabis’ effects on athletic performance remains an under-studied topic.
With Canadians’ recreational use of pot set to become legal next summer, Canadian athletes need to be doubly careful about contravening regulations for banned substances, such as those established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) of the International Olympic Committee.
“The issue is that cannabis is a banned substance on the international banned substance list,” says Glen Bergeron, kinesiology professor at the University of Winnipeg, to Metro News. “We need to be able to educate these athletes that it may be legal to use, but it’s still regarded as a banned substance.”
Bergeron is part of an ad hoc committee for the Canadian Centre of Ethics and Sport which is coming up with a new educational campaign about cannabis in sports. Bergeron says that Canada has been actively lobbying WADA to have marijuana removed from its banned substances list, something which could help Canadian athletes who choose to use pot outside of competition. “There’s a fair amount of work that needs to be done in the next few months with this (ad hoc) committee to put forward a national message,” says Bergeron.
But the scientific evidence on whether pot use is detrimental to athletic performance is still uncertain. That’s the conclusion from a recent study by researchers from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Michael G. Degroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, who conducted a literature review of studies done on marijuana and athletic performance, finding very little good quality research.
The researchers found some indication that cannabis increased bronchodilation and airflow, potentially aiding performance, while other results showed that the drug may hinder an athlete’s overall physical work capacity. But generally, the conclusion was that more research is needed.
“Because the number and quality of studies was low, the effects of marijuana on athletic performance remain unclear,” say the study’s authors, whose research is published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.
Pot use in professional sports is becoming a focus in the US right now, as more and more athletes are speaking about painkiller and opioid abuse in pro sports. A new nonprofit called Athletes for Care has been set up by athletes from the NFL, NBA, NHL and UFC to promote an alternative approach to athlete wellness and pain management, with cannabis use being one of its themes.
“If your bread and butter is your body, you need to find a sustainable way to keep performing at a high level—I learned that the hard way,” says Riley Cote, retired NHL player and founding member of the group, to Bleacher Report. Cote says that while playing pro hockey he would have preferred medicating with cannabis to using the team-supplied painkillers. “If I could have done it the way I wanted,” he adds, “cannabis would have been the way I always managed my pain, sleep and anxiety.”
This past February during NFL Superbowl week, a group of former pro football players participated in a Cannabis in Professional Sports event, televised by ESPN, which aimed at changing attitudes about the use of marijuana to manage pain in professional football.