Research says cannabis neither improves nor impairs athletic performance

Study indicates that cannabis use has “no significant effect” on athletic prowess.


Researchers suggest that current restrictions on cannabis by sporting bodies are “unjustified”. ElNariz/Getty Images


Recent research indicates that cannabis does not affect athletic performance.

In particular, the study by Australian researchers concludes that cannabis use neither improves nor impairs how athletes compete.

“Chronic cannabis consumption had no significant effect on athletic performance,” the paper stated.

It can mean one thing.

“These findings suggest that present restrictions on cannabis use by sporting regulatory bodies are unjustified,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers Andrew Kramer, Justin Sinclair, Lara Sharpe, and Jerome Sarris conducted the study.

The authors titled the paper “Chronic cannabis consumption and physical exercise performance in healthy adults: a systematic review”. The Journal of Cannabis Research published the work last month.

They sought to find out whether cannabis consumption “negatively affects athletic performance” or “improves performance, potentially via enhanced recovery”. Additionaly, if it has “no effect at all”.

As part of the work, the researchers combed through various databases for studies on this matter as recent as January 2020.

Specifically, they paid close attention to the two “strongest predictors of athletic performance”.

More specifically, one is maximal oxygen uptake (VO2Max), a measure of cardio and respiratory fitness. The other is peak work capacity (PWC), or maximum power a person can put to bear.

In connection with this enquiry, the researchers found that these “predictors” did not vary significantly among groups studied.

No evidence demonstrates a major difference between cannabis users and non-users as well for other indicators of strength and endurance.

Tests for athletes and cannabis

The researchers note that athletes get penalized for using cannabis and other substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WAPA).

The WAPA explains how a substance or method gets included in its banned list.

To clarify, it needs to meet two of three criteria. One, the substance or method has the “potential to enhance or enhances sport performance”. Two, it “represents an actual or potential health risk to the athletes”. And three, it “violates the spirit of sport”.

On September 29, 2017, the agency announced its list for 2018, in which it excluded cannabidiol (CBD).

The ban continues for the psychoactive compound in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

However, the WAPA stated that CBD “may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance”.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) serves as the national anti-doping agency.

In line with this, the CCES works with international sport federations and other game associations.

Athletes may benefit from cannabis

The Australian researchers suggested further studies as cannabis gets increasingly legalized around the world.

They noted that “evidence supports the use of cannabis and cannabinoid products for pain, recovery, sleep, and appetite related applications”.

Moreover, these substances are “becoming recognised as valid medical interventions and alternatives to medications such as opioids and benzodiazepines”.

They noted that the mental health and wellbeing of athletes is “paramount, especially considering the psychological pressures faced”.

In connection with this, “cannabinoid therapies may provide ethical ways of supporting them”.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter @carlitopablo


  • Dan Shortt November 7, 2020 07:17 PM

    Is that really what the research says? I have coronary artery disease. If I toke-up before exercising, my chest tightens-up and i get angina. Figure it out for yourself. Anything that that can reduce your lung capacity (such as tars from tobacco or cannabis) is going to affect your athletic ability.

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