Updated on August 16, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
About 1 in 4 elite and college athletes reported using marijuana
within the past year, according to a review of 37 studies.
Athletes use cannabis for a range of reasons, including
helping to reduce pain and soreness, improve sleep, enhance performance, and for
Marijuana contains THC and CBD, which are both anti-inflammatories, and may reduce the swelling that contributes to post-workout aches and pains. The anti-inflammatory effects may help the body recover faster from a hard workout as well. Cannabinoids have also been shown to have antispasmodic components, which can help relax tight muscles and spasms. And cannabis can also improve sleep and reduce anxiety for athletes, which can lead to better sports performance.
Though athletes provide anecdotal evidence that it helps, the scientific proof is fairly slim. Two of the studies in the current review did find a negative impact on performance, while another two studies found no impact. There’s not much research showing that cannabis positively affects performance, but the literature surrounding this is generally poor, the authors wrote. The authors found no research on the influence of cannabis on athletic recovery.
One study found that cannabis may be helpful for extreme sports, as it improves muscle relaxation, reduces anxiety, and helps reduce “fear memories,” which all could contribute to enhanced performance.
“Given the variability in regulation across different sport types and competition levels, as well as the growing number of states legalizing recreational cannabis use, there is a need to improve our understanding of the effects of cannabis use on the athlete,” the authors wrote.