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Why Athletes Consume Cannabis

Athletes need to care for their bodies and minds to stay at the top of their game. Whether they’re prone to injury or they’re facing the pressure from high-stakes competition, the intensity of an athlete’s routine can be physically and emotionally taxing. Professional athletes, competitors at the club level, and hobbyists alike are all susceptible to the physical and emotional toll competition can take. Here’s why so many athletes are interested in what cannabis can offer.

Why do athletes choose cannabis?

Athletes primarily use cannabis for two purposes: physical recovery and mental wellness.

Physical recovery

Intense training and competition inevitably wear the body down. Cannabis can support recovery as athletes rest and regain their strength to tackle their next personal best. 

Muscle soreness is a fact of life for every athlete. Ongoing training and competition stress the body, causing soreness and inflammation. Research shows that cannabis can reduce this soreness, aiding in muscle recovery and reducing pain. Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory effects of a cannabinoid like CBD, for example, could prove useful to muscle recovery and allow athletes to hit the gym just as hard the next day.

Some athletes, like Riley Cote, former Philadelphia Flyer and co-founder of Athletes for Care, laud cannabis’s pain management benefits. Cote was an enforcer for the Flyers, a physical role that comes with taking some damage. He noted in an interview with Leafly that cannabis offers a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, which can be habit forming and carry significant side effects.

Recovery is also a matter of restful sleep. Cannabis promotes relaxation and can help manage insomnia. This is especially true when the right combination of terpenes are included, such as myrcene and linalool. Sleep is a critical time in which the body repairs itself, a prerequisite for improving as an athlete.

Athletes also need to replenish their strength after training or competing by eating enough calories.  THC can increase appetite by stimulating production of a hormone known as ghrelin. Many athletes need more calories than the average person in order to keep their body fueled before and after training. Cannabis can help entice athletes to eat more, replenishing the calories they lost during activity.

Mental wellness

Mental health and focus is just as important to an athlete’s performance as physical condition. Cannabis can help athletes relax and stay focused on their goals.

There is some evidence that cannabis can boost motivation and focus when it comes to athletic training. Researchers found that cannabis consumers who exercised after consuming generally worked out longer and reported enjoying the experience more. They also noted that there may be less negative association with working out due to reduced inflammation and muscle soreness following exercise. The authors of the study acknowledge the need for further research to be done, but even suggest the “co-use” or cannabis and exercise might motivate people who are averse to exercise to start working out and building positive associations around fitness.

For many athletes, cannabis is also a source of mental health support. Some athletes choose cannabis to alleviate mental and emotional stress, which can be exacerbated in a highly competitive environment. For example, Ricky Williams, Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL running back, consumes cannabis to manage his social anxiety disorder. He has said on numerous occasions that cannabis supported his ability to compete at a high level. In a recent interview, Williams said he “would not have won the Heisman without marijuana.”

He’s far from the first athlete to express this: Sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson said she consumed to alleviate the mental stress and “emotional panic” she experienced following the abrupt death of her biological mother. Richardson was barred from competing in the 100 meter dash at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics after testing positive for cannabis. 

It’s not just general mental wellness that could benefit athletes, however. Research suggests that athletes can consume cannabis to help shake anxiety after a traumatic injury and get back in the game. According to the author’s of that study, “cannabinoids play a major role in the extinction of fear memories,” severing the emotional ties of fear and anxiety an athlete might associate with a previous injury. In other words, not only does cannabis assist in physical recovery, but mental resilience in returning to the game.

Cannabis can also support athletes post-career

Many athletes continue to use cannabis to manage chronic conditions once they retire. And new research is breaking ground into whether it could be effective in treating traumatic brain injuries sometimes sustained by athletes in contact sports as well. For example, cannabis may play a role in managing oxidative stress on the brain related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition associated with many contact sports from football to boxing. Some symptoms of CTE – memory loss, irritability, aggression, and depression – could be managed by the neuroprotective properties of cannabis. 

Athletes are real people, too

Athletes may make competition look easy, but it’s important to remember that those efforts take their toll physically and mentally. Cannabis can be a way to help manage pain, sleep, and mood without turning to pharmaceutical options or affecting performance. 

Most professional and amateur sports organizations historically banned cannabis but now, as prohibition ends in many states nationwide, some are revisiting that decision. But it isn’t all about the legality of cannabis. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which bans cannabinoids from international competitions like the Olympics, states that cannabis could potentially be performance enhancing. While few would argue that cannabis is in the same class as other performance enhancers, the research does suggest cannabis could give athletes an edge in recovering mentally and physically. 

Whether you compete, have a daily workout routine, or want to hit a new personal best, you don’t need to be an Olympic-level athlete to benefit from how cannabis can help support physical and mental recovery. Ask an Ethos associate for product recommendations, whether that’s a topical to rub on sore legs or a vape cartridge to help with anxiety, and find what works best for your routine.

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