Since marijuana has been recognized in several states as an effective medical treatment for dealing with pain, improving mood, and decreasing nausea, no wonder that an increasing number of athletes are now turning to cannabis products to solve their health problems caused by grueling training.
As of now, marijuana is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the NCAA; according to their rules, marijuana is considered to be a performance-enhancing drug.
Indeed, some athletes claim that smoking weed before working out can alleviate pain so that they can work out longer and more productively, plus it eases their anxiety before the competitions. Others say that marijuana has a bad influence on their motivation, and they feel too relaxed to do anything at the gym.
But what about the scientific opinion on the issue—do any of marijuana compounds enhance athletic performance on a chemical level?
Most of the studies on marijuana have been performed on rodents, and we should remember that rodents' endocannabinoid system differs from the human one. It is also important to note that marijuana can provide different (and sometimes even opposite) effects depending on the strain, dose, and way of consumption (ingesting, smoking, etc.).
One of the few studies conducted on humans showed that marijuana significantly disrupted perception and body coordination and decreased the reaction time. The study was conducted on the licensed pilots performing a flight simulation. The weed-smoking group made significantly more major and minor errors comparing to the control group. They managed to restore their control level only after six hours.
This effect can be explained by another study that used Positron Emission Tomography to observe the effect of smoking weed. The study showed that consuming marijuana reduced the blood flow to the temporal lobe, which is responsible for focused tasks, and increased the blood flow to other parts of the brain that are responsible for sensory perception, emotion, and sexual behavior.
However, a different study showed that heavy cannabis use made it difficult to perform complicated tasks, while with small doses the user was still able to perform simple tasks (or exercises) with no significant changes.
Therefore, using small doses of marijuana before and after the workout routine can help an athlete to complete it with less pain, while large doses can significantly worsen the performance at team sports or any sports that require complicated movements.
Hormones are responsible for your mood, behavior, health, and performance. Therefore, it is important to know whether marijuana influences your hormonal state or not. Well, the answer is still unclear.
A study conducted on rodents showed that cannabis suppressed the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA), which is responsible for the immune system, mood, stress, digestion, and energy storage. But a similar study on humans showed a bit different results: THC lowered only the testosterone hormone and raised cortisol, which together could cause stress, anxiety, and paranoia.
That does not sound positive, but on the other hand, it is possible that chronic marijuana use may induce tolerance to HPA, and therefore, their hormones will reach balance after some time. Another study insists that chronic use of marijuana does not influence the hormonal level of either men and women.
So, for now, it is a bit difficult to say anything for sure about the issue, but it seems that marijuana has a very small influence the hormonal state of an athlete. At least, not big enough to enhance performance.
If you live in a state where marijuana is yet not legalized, the chances are big that the marijuana you may find will contain a high level of THC and little to no CBD, which makes this weed a very weak painkiller. If you have a choice, you had better pick the strain that is either well-balanced or has a high CBD level. That will allow you to stay focused and get the analgesic effect.
However, if you play team games like tennis, football, soccer, or if you lift huge amounts of weight over your head, we would not recommend you to consume weed before the workouts and especially before the competitions.