With the recent decision by the DEA to expand the number of marijuana growers in the US, while keeping it classified as a Schedule I drug, it seems as if the legalization movement is constantly taking one step forward, only to take one step back again. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Medical Correspondent for CNN and creator of the documentary “Weed,” has called the gesture “symbolic” meaning that while the number of growers and opportunities for research have technically expandedRead more »
With the Olympics coming to a close in Rio de Janeiro, people all over the world have tuned in to watch countries compete against one another in incredible feats of athleticism. But that’s not the only thing the world is tuning in on. As the recent scandal with Russian Olympians circulated in the media, the subject of doping became just as intriguing to the general population as did the discussion of the Zika virus at the Olympics.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), a “foundation created through a collective initiative led by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)”, focuses primarily on scientific research, education, development of anti-doping capacities, and monitoring of the World Anti-Doping Code. It was WADA that ultimately made the recommendation to the IOC to ban certain Russian athletes from the Rio 2016 Olympic, and Paralympic games. With the majority of such a prominent team’s athletes banned from competing, WADA has had to make some hard calls.
One thing WADA is not chiefly concerned about? Marijuana.
In 2013, WADA updated the acceptable amount of marijuana permitted to be found in drug tests at the Olympics from and the update went into effect at this year’s Olympic games. This change reflects shifts in public opinion and recent studies about marijuana and sports. Namely that athletes rarely use marijuana during competition, instead opting to take advantage of its health benefits while training. The updated limit makes room for athletes who have used marijuana within the last 30 days, as the cannabis can sometimes stay in the system for that period of time or longer. With the new limit, it seems that WADA and the international community is accepting that some athletes may use cannabis before the games, but often quit before they compete.
And why not? In some studies, cannabis has been found to have numerous health benefits for athletes who are training. One major reason athletes consume marijuana during training is that it is exceptionally effective for pain relief. But it goes beyond that. In addition to evidence that the compound THC in marijuana can decrease damage and improve healing after skeletal and muscle injury, another major compound in cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) has been found to have anti-inflammation effects on the body and provide protection for the heart, lungs, as well as protecting the brain in head injury.
The WADA has three guidelines that determine which drugs are banned from the Olympic games: performance enhancement, danger to an athlete’s health, and violation of the spirit of sport.
As of right now, marijuana is banned under the third guideline: violation of the spirit of sport. The interesting thing, however, is that some research has actually revealed performance-enhancing effects of marijuana.
Dr. Dustin Sulak, a licensed osteopathic physician and advocate of cannabis in health, describes some of the main benefits of marijuana use during training, including “improved oxygenation to tissues, improved vision, the ability to forget previous traumatic experiences related to the activity, and reduction in muscle spasms.”
Even more interesting for athletes is the ability for certain compounds in cannabis to “regulate neuroplasticity, the structural changes and new connections made between neurons when we learn and master a specialized skill.” Essentially, cannabis has the potential to assist athletes master their sport. Discovering that Olympic athletes use marijuana is not the scandal it used to be, and with new research about marijuana coming out, it seems less likely that the drug is averse to the spirit of sport, and more so that it could be a natural performance enhancer. What a different world it would be if cannabis was removed from the spirit of sport restriction and took its rightful place as a natural companion to an elite athlete’s training regime, just as healthy eating, hydration or vitamin supplements are now?
It certainly seems that at least in one particularly high-profile case, marijuana has not been an inhibition to athletic excellence. In 2009, Michael Phelps, who is now the most decorated Olympian of all times, was caught smoking marijuana at a party. Other Olympic athletes, including the “fastest man alive” – Jamaica’s Usain Bolt – are also known to consume cannabis. Although we have no idea how frequently Phelps or others consume marijuana due to the stigma associated with it, it still supports the notion that athletes, and some of the best among them, can use cannabis and still take home the gold.
But don’t start toking and lifting weights just yet. Much research still needs to be done on the subject. The benefits of training and using cannabis comes with determining the correct dosage, strain of cannabis, and delivery system. For example, smoking marijuana is probably not the best delivery system, as it may affect your respiratory system. There is a complex web of components to work out and the Schedule I classification in the US, which deems cannabis to have no medicinal value, makes researching the subject and determining the correct routine a difficult feat.
Those of us who may not be up to Olympian standards can still take a note from cannabis-using athletes. The reduction in anxiety can help reduce that feeling of dread you sometimes get when trying to peel yourself off the couch and put on your running shoes. If you have a propensity for injury or have recurring injuries, cannabis, as mentioned above, may help reduce inflammation. Perhaps one of the most amazing things about cannabis when you’re trying to get in shape is that it raises your metabolism and activates the same responses in your body that exercise can.
So, enjoy the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games this weekend and keep in mind that if you’re consuming cannabis and exercising, you may have something in common with your Olympian counterparts!