How Cannabis Helps Athletes Manage Pain & Boost Performance

CannabisFN by Rachelle Gordon

Marijuana is now legal for medical or recreational use in 29 states and the District of Columbia – 60% of Americans live where they can obtain cannabis legitimately. Most people who use marijuana do so to treat a specific ailment, or to catch a nice buzz. But there are emerging sectors of this growing industry popping up every day, from cannabis massages to “puff and paint” classes. A growing number of athletes and sports medicine professionals are also starting to wonder if cannabis could be another way to get ahead of the game.

Cannabis Athletes – a New Era of Fitness

There is little research on how cannabis affects athletes, but many swear by it. Cliff Drusinsky owns a fitness gym in Denver – and is big fan of cannabis. He states that the members of his gym are not your stereotypical stoner couch-potatoes.

“I want all my clients to be able to hop in a 10K race, do a sprint triathlon, ski the best powder, or hike up Mount Kilimanjaro,” said Drusinsky in a recent Men’s Fitness interview. A triathlete, Drusinsky uses cannabis in various ways throughout the day. Topical lotion may go on sore muscles while an edible protein bar may offer the extra boost needed to run the extra mile.

Drusinsky isn’t the only athlete touting the powers of pot – more and more professional athletes, coaches, and sports medicine professionals are coming out in support of cannabis use. While once a controversial – and often banned – topic, those days are starting to become a distant memory. Distance runners, Olympic swimmers, and former NBA players alike are now using marijuana to gain a competitive edge.

What are the Benefits of Cannabis Use Among Athletes?

There are few main reasons why cannabis athletes are becoming more prevalent. THC (the psychoactive cannabinoid) offers energy, focus and clarity (as long as you use sativa-dominant strains!). Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid that does not get users high, but instead is used for its medical benefits. CBD is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties and the ability for the cannabinoid to relieve muscle tension and pain – a big problem for many athletes. Cannabis is also known to assist the cool-down process after vigorous exercise.

Marijuana is also being promoted as a natural alternative to opioid painkillers, which is often prescribed for pain – and can be highly addictive. Steve Kerr, a former NBA player and coach, recently revealed that he used medical marijuana after recovering from back surgery. Kerr’s admission sparked dialogue across the country about the potential benefits of pot in sports.

“I think the league should look into medicinal marijuana for pain relief,” Kerr said in a recent interview with “Athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s vitamin C, like it’s no big deal.”

In other sports, attitudes are beginning to shift regarding cannabis use. When NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Pellman – who did not support medical marijuana – retired, it opened the door for further discussions on the subject. Additionally, the World Anti-Doping Agency (the agency responsible for drug testing in international sports) decided to raise the acceptable THC levels for Olympic athletes smoking weed in 2013 – don’t forget that Gold Medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps was once photographed using a water pipe.

With the legal cannabis industry now worth billions of dollars, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs want to cash in – especially when it comes to cannabis athletes. Fitness buffs looking for a protein shake or bar that contains THC or CBD while on their way to the pot-friendly gym is not fantasy – it’s real life. Here are some of the many products on the market directed towards exercise enthusiasts:

  • Mary’s Medicinals Green & Protein Powder Mixes – The protein shake is eponymous with fitness and the famous Mary’s Medicinals were among the first to combine the phenomenon with cannabis. The company combines whey protein with fresh plant material in a delicious and easy-to-use powder.
  • Americanna THC Gummies – These small yet powerful THC gummies are a must-have for runners, as they are easy to consume and kick in faster than other edibles. Available in both sour and sweet,Americanna gummies come in both 10mg and 25mg doses.
  • Apothecanna Extra-Strength Pain Cream – Apothecanna is on the forefront of cannabis topicals, a growing segment of the market. Their Extra-Strength Pain Cream contains arnica, peppermint, juniper – and of course, cannabis. The lotion can be massages directly onto sore muscles or used in a deep-tissue massage.

What do Studies Say?

As mentioned earlier, the jury’s still out on whether cannabis can have a positive effect on athletes. However, certain studies have pointed out some interesting correlations. For example, a recent study on the way fat cells store THC discovered the process can give athletes an extra boost, even up to 28 days after consumption. And that floating feeling you get after a good workout? It turns out that the endocannabinoid system may be behind it.  A 2003 study found that exercise actually activates the endocannabinoid system in the same way that the cannabis plant does.

Final Thought

Despite a lack of peer-reviewed evidence, cannabis is becoming popular in the fitness sector. From CBD’s ability to relieve pain to THC’s energy-boosting capabilities, cannabis athletes are finding a whole new meaning to the term “runner’s high.”

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