Effects of Marijuana on Athletic Performance

Marijuana use has always been a popular topic of conversation around athletic performance, and with the drug becoming legal in many places and used by more and more athletes, I wanted to gather some information to answer one question: Does marijuana have a place in sports or should it be completely avoided by athletes?

Understanding Cannabis and Marijuana

THC and CBD are the most potent cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant (where marijuana comes from). To understand how marijuana will impact an athlete, it’s crucial to understand the differences between the two chemicals.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): THC is the psychoactive part of marijuana that gives off the “high” sensation. It mimics some of your body’s neural transmitters resulting in the release of dopamine. THC also plays a huge role in brain function altering memory, decision making, thinking, physical movement and coordination. If excessive amounts are consumed, it can put your body in its fight-or-flight state and will often lead to rising levels of anxiety.

Cannabidiol (CBD): Cannabidiol, or CBD, actually offsets many of the negative effects of THC. It will calm the mind and body and is a natural anti-inflammatory. CBD can be found within weed in varying amounts along with THC but has recently been popularized as an extracted oil to be consumed in the absence of THC.

Photo of marijuana leaves

Cannabis experts can transform the ratio of THC:CBD to achieve a desired effect from the user. If you choose to consume, know exactly what you’re buying.

Is Cannabis a Banned Substance in Sports?

It’s important to consistently check your league’s list of banned substances. I cannot emphasize this point enough. The World Ant-Doping Agency (WADA) still lists THC as a banned substance but leaves CBD off, while USPORTS (Canadian University Sport) has recently stopped testing for cannabis substances following the country-wide legalization.

With different boards having very different stances on whether cannabis can be a part of sport, the moral of the story is this: Check your league’s banned substance list before consuming anything! I can’t imagine anything worse than getting suspended for accidentally ingesting a banned substance. It’s best to air on the side of caution when consuming anything. Check for an NSF certification on all of your supplements to be 100% sure.

Athletic Drawbacks of Marijuana Consumption

Those of you reading this post who have consumed cannabis products in the past will know that smoking a joint is far from performance-enhancing. However, most of these drawbacks are actually coming from the THC portion of cannabis, not the CBD. I am going to run through a couple of key points that may deter you from consuming THC products as an athlete.

THC Interferes With Normal Brain Function

As mentioned before, THC gives off the “high” feeling. THC is so similar to your body’s natural endocannabinoids that it will bind to their specific receptor sites and interfere with the typical signalling seen.

This usually affects the individual’s ability to perform complicated tasks due to interferences in their balance, coordination, posture, and reaction time. (1) The individual will also see a decline in their ability to learn new tasks/movements and store them in their memory. None of these aforementioned qualities are good for performance and will probably end up in injury to yourself or those around you, or the more likely option, with your ass getting sat in the middle of the bench.

Possible Decrease In Lung Function

Your lungs are meant to inhale oxygen-rich air and exhale waste product in the form of carbon dioxide. While there has been no conclusive research as to whether smoking marijuana is directly related to lung disease, it sure can’t help. (2) Inhaling anything other than oxygen-rich air can have adverse effects on your lungs nevertheless air filled with toxins and carcinogens created by burning marijuana.

Any decrease in lung performance will be detrimental for aerobic athletes like marathon runners who need their lungs to be firing on all cylinders to be able to compete at their full potential, but even team sport athletes that might not rely as heavily on gas exchange during their sport need efficient lung function to perform well in high-intensity training. At the end of the day, if you are choosing to consume cannabis products, it is recommended to stay away from smoking and instead consume edible products.

Photo of lit marijuana blunt

Inhaling anything other than oxygen-rich air can be detrimental to performance and affect pulmonary function

Possible Side Effects

It’s important to remember that everyone doesn’t react to substances the same way. Feelings of nausea, fatigue, anxiety or irritability are all possible side effects of both CBD and THC that will affect performance. It’s best to air on the side of caution so your level of play doesn’t become erratic.

Potential Athletic Benefits of Consuming Marijuana

Just as the athletic drawbacks of cannabis consumption mainly stem from THC, most of the potential benefits are drawn from CBD. I do not endorse (or discourage for that matter) any cannabis use. I am simply displaying research and explaining why some athletes participate in cannabis consumption in an attempt to enhance their performance. Let’s do it.

Reduction of Performance Anxiety

The CBD portion of cannabis can be very effective at reducing anxiety and fear levels. (3) This can be seen as an advantage to some and a disadvantage to others depending on their sport, position, and emotional stability. Nevertheless, this is one of the main reasons athletes participate in cannabis, more specifically CBD, products before competition.

Reduced Inflammation and Pain Levels

CBD has been used to reduce both acute and chronic pain for a while now. Its molecular structure makes it a natural anti-inflammatory. (4) This can be used similarly to ibuprofen by reducing pain and inflammation for an injured athlete. Keep in mind that while CBD itself hasn’t been shown to be addictive, any pain-killer poses a threat to health when abused.

When looking at American Football athletes who are in constant pain and have to undergo a very full, long season, it’s hard for me to understand why using the drug Toradol (which is said to have negative effects on the cardiovascular system when used long term) (5) is better than CBD to mask pain and allow the athletes to play. Perhaps this is why the NFL has recently changed league rules to allow for controlled CBD use.

CBD May Help Athletes Sleep

Further studies are needed, but the research suggests that consuming CBD before bed may help an individual both fall and stay asleep. (6) Many suspect that this is due to the lower anxiety levels seen when CBD is taken. (3)

Nevertheless, sleep is crucial for athletes so for those that struggle to get a good night’s rest I suggest asking your doctor if CBD is a good option for you.

Photo of CBD oil

CBD oil has been gaining popularity by athletes around the world with many professionals even becoming spokespeople for CBD companies

Getting High Can Help an Athlete’s Mental Health

Just like alcohol, lots of athletes find the consumption of cannabis products to be good for their overall mental health. The constant mental and physical stress that athletes face every day in practice and in games takes a toll throughout the duration of a season.

I’m not saying that I love or hate this practice, but the fact is that lots of athletes consume cannabis products to relax and recharge their social battery when consuming in a group setting.

Once again, not everybody will feel relaxed when consuming marijuana, but this is one strategy that athletes have used in the past and will certainly continue to use to stay sharp throughout the season and relax in the offseason.

Like anything, these pros can quickly become cons if not used in moderation.

Should Athletes Consume Marijuana?

At the end of the day, I believe that additional medicines and supplements are consumed way too often without a direct purpose, especially by athletes looking to gain an edge on their competition. It is amazing what the body can do naturally, but there could be a place for CBD in sport.

THC should not be ingested by serious athletes looking to enhance their performance. Athletes should have a clear head to be able to put forth their best performance in competition and training, something that THC alters dramatically.

However, after scouring through the research, it’s hard to argue against an athlete moderately using CBD for the greater good of their health and performance under the supervision of a doctor. It’s a natural substance that can help with pain, anxiety, sleep, and inflammation while not exuding any serious side effects. It’s important to constantly monitor research as it becomes more abundant, but right now, it appears to be safe and effective.

I’m not here to tell you what to take or endorse certain products. Rather, I want to distribute important research to the Sled Dog Development Team and let you all decide for yourselves.

As athletes, we are responsible for what we put into our bodies. Be smart.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gova/what-marijuana
  2. https://www.atsjournals.org/
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/
  4. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/9/1/21/htm
  5. https://www.drugs.com/sfx/toradol-side-effects.html
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov-PMC6326553