Is Cannabis Actually Performance-Enhancing?

Is Cannabis Actually Performance-Enhancing? Is Cannabis Actually Performance-Enhancing?

When track star Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from the Olympics this month after testing positive for marijuana, it sparked debates on whether cannabis should be classified as a performance-enhancing drug. Does getting high really improve strength or agility?

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, yes. But for Sha’Carri, the answer doesn’t matter. Marijuana is still prohibited based on other criteria set by the organization. For a substance to be added to the WADA’s prohibited list, it must meet two of three criteria: 1) it is performance-enhancing 2) it poses a health risk and 3) it goes against the “spirit” of the sport. 

Sha’Carri’s ban stands regardless if cannabis is performance-enhancing or not because of the latter two reasons.

While violating the “spirit” of the sport is subjective, science can prove whether or not a substance is a health risk or performance-enhancing. And the research available doesn’t support these claims. 

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Stance 

Marijuana was added to the WADA’s list in 1998, after a Canadian gold medalist tested positive on a drug test. Since then, sports organizations such as the Olympics have followed these guidelines. Along with the criteria listed above, the WADA goes further into an explanation of why cannabis is listed as a prohibited substance. As to how weed is a health risk they state, “Athletes who smoke cannabis potentially endanger themselves and others because of increased risk-taking, slower reaction times and poor executive function or decision making.” 

As an Olympic-level athlete like Sha’Carri, reaction time and executive function are paramount to performance. Even just a tenth of a second could decide between winning a gold medal or not. This seemingly contradicts their second reasoning which is, “Cannabis can be performance-enhancing for some athletes and sports disciplines.”

Lastly, the WADA states because of these reasons, using cannabis is “not consistent with the athlete as a role model for young people around the world.” 

But the question still remains, is cannabis actually performance-enhancing? Well, the data they cite is insubstantial at best. 

Contradictory Research

The WADA largely cites a 2011 paper written by two of their own scientists on why cannabis should be classified as prohibited. In this, it claims that marijuana is a health risk to athletes and yet also enhances their performance. Experts outside of the organization have speculated this data saying it’s inconclusive, and in some parts, downright wrong.

Most recently, a literature review published in April in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness concluded that cannabis “does not act as a sport performance-enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs.” Furthermore, they said that in order to maximize performance, it should be avoided prior to exercise. 

While THC can be used to help anxiety and stress, by those standards alcohol would also be classified as performance-enhancing. Similarly, caffeine would be prohibited for increasing mental focus and decreasing fatigue. So why just cannabis? 

One challenge in definitively reaching conclusions in this debate is that historically, marijuana hasn’t been used in many studies. This is partly because of the stigma surrounding cannabis and it being classified with other dangerous, highly addictive drugs. This has made available research limited, even with 19 states now having recreational adult use legal. 

Fortunately, times are changing. 

As cannabis becomes more popular, sports organizations are rethinking their rules. In 2018, the WADA removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances. CBD, unlike THC, is nonpsychoactive meaning it won’t get you “high.” CBD has been used as a popular tool for helping treat anxiety, pain, insomnia, and more. Learn more about the Effects of CBD here.

Many U.S. sports leagues have also started to allow the use of cannabis. Major League Baseball removed marijuana from its prohibited substances list in 2019. The NBA banned random testing for marijuana in 2020. And even the NFL is allowing players to smoke without discipline during off-seasons. Similarly, the UFC said testing positive for cannabis would no longer be considered a violation.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, weed isn’t going to help you win the Olympic gold. While more research needs to be done to definitively conclude that cannabis is not performance-enhancing, what we know from available research is that it’s not. Marijuana has a long history of being considered dangerous, and it’s only been in recent years that this is starting to change. While the WADA has been firm on there stance, we remain hopeful that cannabis can be fully destigmatized in the future.

Have any questions? Feel free to contact us online here. Check out our menu online for high-quality, green-certified products. We have a huge selection of flower, concentrate, edibles, and more.