Cannabis and Sports: Exploring the Relationship Between Marijuana and Athletic Performance

By Harry B. Nuggs

Cannabis and Sports: Exploring the Relationship Between Marijuana and Athletic Performance

The issue of the relationship between cannabis and sports performance is very complicated and disputed. Some athletes insist that it helps them in their training and recovery, while some consider it illegal to use in any form even in sports. Is there a link between sports and marijuana? Let's take a closer look.

The Case for Cannabis in Sports

Pain and Inflammation Relief

One reason why some athletes take cannabis is because of its potential as an analgesic/anti-inflammatory medication. The compounds within cannabis, including THC and CBD, may help relieve muscle aches, joint pain, or general body inflammation caused by intense workout sessions or competitions. This might help them recover faster and get ready for subsequent exercises.

Focus and Concentration

Some players believe that small portions of marijuana make them enter a state of “flow” – heightened concentration, present moment awareness, and reduced anxiety during training or competition. In these cases, top concentration will improve one's overall performance on the field.

Improved Sleep

Quality sleep is crucial for athletic recovery and performance. Cannabis may help some people fall asleep faster and achieve more restorative, high-quality slumber, which could optimize rest and repair between training and events.

The Case Against Cannabis in Sports

Impaired Motor Skills

While small amounts of cannabis may heighten focus, higher doses impair coordination, reaction time, equilibrium, and other crucial motor abilities needed in games. This potential performance detriment is why most major sports leagues prohibit cannabis use.

Negative Side Effects

Adverse effects are also possible after consumption of marijuana such as dizziness, vomiting sensations, increased heart rate, or decreased motivation to participate in various games. These reactions may differ among individuals too.

Legality and Testing

In many places including professional sports setups, marijuana remains illegal. Cannabis use by players might lead to legal penalties as well as disciplinary actions for breaching drug policies in leagues where drug tests are conducted.

The Ongoing Debate

Given the intricate and arguable nature of marijuana within athletics, regulatory authorities have approached it differently. For example:

  • The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) currently considers cannabis as a prohibited substance in competition but they are reevaluating this policy.

  • Major North American sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB have all banned cannabis use, though some are relaxing enforcement and considering policy changes.

  • In contrast to other major sports like X Games, several esports competitions allow the use of cannabis.

However, there is limited and inconclusive evidence on how cannabis affects athletic performance at large. There is a need for more high-quality studies to define the potential merits or drawbacks, if any, of cannabis from a sports perspective.

Moreover, whether or not cannabis should be used by athletes is a decision that must be made based on personal preferences which depend on individual needs and goals as well as specific rules of their sport. An athlete must maintain open communication with his/her coaches, trainers, and medical practitioners before using marijuana.

Responsible Cannabis Use for Athletes

For athletes interested in exploring cannabis, a few key principles of responsible use include:

Start Low and Go Slow

You can start by consuming doses that are as low as 1-5mg THC/CBD, and then increase the dosage gradually if needed. One should avoid intoxicating high doses capable of impairing motor skills.

Time It Right

Cannabis should be used well before training or competition, not right beforehand, to avoid potential negative effects on performance. The time should be enough for all impairing effects to wear off.

Opt for CBD

CBD which does not make you high is preferred by many athletes as opposed to cannabis rich in THC. CBD may have advantages without the psychoactive element.

Know the Rules

It is always important to know the rules and adhere to them regarding cannabis in your sport’s governing body, league, or event organizers. Avoid anything that could result in failed drug tests or other consequences.

Ask Experts’ Advice

Working closely with healthcare professionals, trainers, or any other appropriate specialists will help one establish a safe, suitable cannabis protocol (if necessary) for their athletic goals and needs.


Cannabis and sports still have a complicated relationship that is evolving. Some athletes claim improvement while others suffer setbacks. For those who choose this direction, responsible use is needed in recognizing marijuana as part of their active lifestyle.