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Is Cannabis A Performance Enhancing Drug?

For many years virtually every major sports league prohibited the use of cannabis by its competitors. Leagues also punished players that received cannabis-related crimes and charges away from their teams/leagues. To make matters worse, the punishment didn’t end with a fine or suspension from the team.

Professional athletes such as Clifford Robinson (NBA), Ricky Williams (NFL), and Nick Diaz (UFC) that were punished by their respective leagues also had to deal with a tremendous amount of stigma and shame from mainstream media and fans, which is extremely unfortunate. These days current and professional athletes don’t have to deal with the same level of stigma, and in some cases, their leagues have even dropped cannabis prohibition policies entirely.

The conversation regarding cannabis and professional sports has shifted from ‘should cannabis be prohibited for being harmful’ to ‘should cannabis be prohibited for being too beneficial.’ It is well-known that the cannabis plant can provide numerous wellness benefits, however, are those benefits so great that cannabis should be considered a performance enhancing drug as it pertains to professional sports?

What Constitutes ‘Performance Enhancing?’

Just because a substance helps an athlete’s performance to some degree does not automatically mean that the substance should be banned for being a performance enhancing substance. Creatine is a great example of a substance that is popular, enhances performance to some degree, yet is not banned by major sports leagues. Clearly, there is some threshold for what constitutes performance enhancement, and it is the position of major sports leagues that creatine does not cross that threshold. Cannabis should be treated the same way by professional sports leagues.

How Does Cannabis Enhance Performance?

It is absolutely worth noting that when someone is arguing that cannabis should be banned for being a performance enhancing drug, it’s virtually guaranteed that they are just a cannabis opponent offering up whatever argument they can to keep cannabis prohibited. It happens in sports just as it does in society. With that being said, typically arguments in favor of cannabis prohibition in sports come in two forms.

The first is that cannabis can increase focus, and therefore it gives athletes too much of an edge. Cannabis can indeed increase focus in some people (often referred to as tunnel vision), however, that is not always the case. Cannabis also induces euphoria and intoxication, which obviously prevents focus in many people. In order for cannabis to be truly performance enhancing from a focus perspective, the effects would need to be consistent for all athletes which is not the case.

The second argument is that cannabis consumption can increase oxygen uptake. While it is true that studies have found cannabis to be associated with increased oxygen uptake, it’s not an increase that is large enough to justify banning cannabis. Consider the fact that iron-rich foods also increase oxygen uptake. Should professional sports leagues ban iron-rich foods? Of course not.

Professional Sports Leagues Need To Embrace Cannabis

It is no secret that professional athletes consume large amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, including and especially harmful opioids. In fact, over half of NFL players report having used opioids during their careers, and over 70% report having seen or participated in misuse. Opioid deaths are on the rise across the globe, especially in the United States where over 75,000 people die from opioids annually.

Cannabinoids, on the other hand, have never killed anyone in recorded human history. They also show a lot of promise when it comes to treating a number of conditions per a growing list of peer-reviewed studies. Thankfully, professional sports leagues are starting to get on the right side of history when it comes to cannabis policy, however, it’s still a far cry from where things need to be. Leagues need to embrace the cannabis plant by allowing players to make the safer choice. Ultimately, it will keep the athletes healthier, and that, in turn, will make leagues better.