Cannabis-assisted recovery – Here’s all that an athlete need to know

cannabis athlete

What is the common thread connecting cannabis to hydrotherapy, active recovery, stretching, compression garments, massage, sleep and nutrition?

These are some of the most popular recovery techniques for athletes. Interestingly, cannabis is being now popularized as a bio-hack for recovery among athletes.

We have scientific evidence that consuming cannabis has its benefits. But, is cannabis is good or bad for an athlete? It requires careful examination. Well, that is what we will do. Plus, we will explore other aspects of cannabis and sports for you.

As an athlete you stand to gain a lot from the information, we have gathered for you. Even as a sports enthusiast, you have nothing to lose if you spend a couple of minutes reading through interesting bits of latest information on exercise, injury, recovery and athletic performance.

So, stay with me.

We understand as an athlete our body is well and truly stretched in all possible directions. For a professional athlete, a lot is on stake on winning and losing. Hence, sport-related injuries are inevitable – a general order of the day. More so, even during the injury-free period, recovery from fatigue, muscle soreness and retaining razor sharp focus to producing excellent performances day in day out is expected of you as we expect sunshine from the sun. For a professional athlete a lot rides on their fitness, namely by way of their contracts, endorsements and compensation.  

Cannabis can prove to be a life saver for an athlete.

Most disagree. Some disagree because even today cannabis carry a huge negative stigma. Overturning decades of negative image will take time.

Most recently, Sha’Carri Richardson was denied a spot at the Tokyo Olympics last summer after testing positive for cannabis. A debate for removal of cannabis from WADA list of prohibited substance is heating up to a boil. In fact, WADA is considering to reviewing its ban on cannabis. A similar movement is being witnessed in other sports.

In United States, the Major League Baseball (MLB) removed marijuana from its banned substances list last year. The National Football League (NFL) declared that it would not suspend players for testing positive for marijuana. Marijuana testing for the drug is also reduced to once a year. Even National Hockey League (NHL) does not discipline players for cannabis use as well.

Thank God! We can breathe a sigh of relief as we are moving in the right direction.

This can be said in light of the following facts.

Cannabis is increasingly being promoted is a bio-hack. Cannabis is a natural-alternative to opioid-based pain-relief drugs such as codeine or OxyContin. Besides the pain-numbing properties, cannabis also help ease up stress and anxiety that comes with sports-injuries.

In United States post November, 2020 four states voted to legalize recreational marijuana the MORE Act a proposed legislation will end federal marijuana prohibition. Yet, “the FDA has not approved any drug product containing or derived from botanical marijuana for any indication,”

How are athletes using cannabis in their pursuit of excellence in sports?

The tribe of long-distance runners using cannabis in their pursuit of mental stamina, increased focus, and pain relief, is increasing in its size. Interesting term that is fast becoming part of the language of the tribe is “weed workouts”. This tribe of athlete take their share of cannabidiol (CBD) through transdermal patches and gels to bounce back from ravages of sports-inflicted wear and tear.

Another ultra-marathoner uses a line of pot-infused chocolates from Mary’s Medicinals to relax his muscles and quicker recovery. He is also relying on CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Increasing number of athletes are now hacking the pain-reliving properties of cannabis. In fact, they claim to be relishing the fact that CBD is a plant-based alternative as compared to synthetically produced opioid pain-relieving drugs. There is no argument countering that CBD is a lot safer alternative to barbiturates such as codeine or oxycodone or fentanyl. There is more to cannabis. It comes with an additional benefit. Cannabis also unlocks the mental acuity complementing the boost to physical health.

What is the official status of Cannabis, especially in relation to sports?

Officially, Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) still lists cannabis as a prohibited substance in competitive sports, even though cannabis is legal for recreation use in Canada.

However, CBD is an exception.

CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid present in cannabis. World Ant-Doping Agency (WADA) has removed CBD Oil from list of prohibited substances. Still, athletes should exercise caution as it is almost impossible to extract pure CBD. Hence, CBD oil often contains traces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) will review the status of cannabis on its banned substances list in the wake of the positive test that saw US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson suspended from the Olympics.

Though cannabis will remain on the list of banned substances in 2022.


So, what does cannabis threshold mean?

The threshold means that if cannabinoids are detected in an athlete’s sample below now 150ng/mL, it will not be designated as a violation. The set threshold is also used was to differentiate ‘passive smokers’ from being unduly tested positive for cannabis. WADA increased the approved threshold for cannabis in athletes from 15ng/mL to 150ng/mL. This change is now in place.

However, a WADA study reports that athletes are unlikely to be tested positive when they stop consuming cannabis seven days prior to a competition.

What does this mean for legal medical marijuana?

When cannabis is the most effective treatment for your ailment, apply for a medical exemption. Consult your doctor and simultaneously refer to the Medical Exemption Wizard to be certain of your requirements.

Athletes should be aware that there is no guarantee that a medical exemption will be granted.

How to minimize the risk of a doping violation?

Here’s a simple guide to avoid the risk of a doping violation with cannabis.

First and foremost, abstinence is the best way to avoid doping violation. However, if you must consume cannabis, athletes may be able to reduce their risk by given below strategies:

 Explore and adopt medical alternatives to curative cannabis;

  • When cannabis-assisted therapy is the only alternative, do apply for a medical exemption as necessary;
  • Do not abuse yourself with cannabis;
  • Make sure you stop consuming at least 15 days prior to a competition period; and

Clearance times for individual vary. Even the concentration of THC varies from strain to strain. Hence escaping an anti-doping rule violation is not fool-proof.

How does Cannabis benefit an athlete?

Cannabis provides relief from chronic inflammatory diseases

It is devastating for any sportsperson who suffers an injury while playing or going through some intense workouts and is unable to give his performance to the full. They want to get back to their sports routine as soon as possible and jumpstart from where they started. Cannabis can help ease pain in athletes dealing with joint and muscle inflammation. Many athletes who have undergone surgery and are recovering from past injuries have found their relief in cannabis.

Some athletes are not comfortable inhaling marijuana and make the most of CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, they can use topical products as an alternative solution. Tinctures in concentrated doses can also be helpful for targeted areas of recovery which can speed the healing process. In recent times, many have turned to marijuana for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Cannabis aids in preventing and reducing muscle soreness

Cannabis can diminish the agony experienced in acute and chronic pain due to an injury. It can also significantly lessen the discomfort of sore muscles.

Cannabinoids present in cannabis are anti-inflammatory, stress busting and pain mediating. In addition, CBD an integral cannabinoid of cannabis is antioxidative.

There is evidence supporting high dose of antioxidant supplementation reduces muscle soreness at up to 6 hours and at 24, 48 and 72 hours.

CBD oil and high-grade THC extracts are proving to be an excellent option as a safe painkiller. This is in the light of people getting hooked to opioid-based painkillers manage pain and inflammation.

Cannabis improves sleep quality

Athletes hiring sleep coaches is gaining traction. Take a cue from the GOAT – CR7.

Quality sleep works like a miracle. Quality sleep holds paramount importance in performing better in the field, especially when there are no prizes for coming second. Usually players suffering from stress, PTSD, REM sleep disorder, and daytime fatigue can pin their hopes on CBD which can definitely help them get their desired quota of quality sleep.

Also, taking weed at night can induce even more surprising benefits. Studies show adults having consumed cannabis before getting to bed did not only enjoy quality sleep but woke up feeling with little memory of the day before. So, if an athlete endured a tough day at the office may escape from relieving painful experiences and escapes carrying any excess baggage for their next match. Starting afresh is a bonus every athlete will take any day.

A blend of 1:1 CBD and THC results in better sleep quality and duration.

Also, cannabis have substituted traditional sleep medications that are addictive and can have several side effects. Many athletes have already shifted to marijuana for reducing their anxiety and inducing better sleep performance.

Cannabis enhances mental acuity

Anyone who has read the revolutionary book “The inner game of tennis” will concur every game is played on two levels – physical and mental. The two states need to work in unison to deliver peak performance, especially in competitive sports.

Cannabis not only helps the athletes with their physical pain but it also helps them in improving their mental health and increase their mental acuity. For many athletes, marijuana has helped them channelize their cerebral energies by focussing on a task at hand at the same time deal with it patiently. Many athletes describe the road to recovery being very slippery requiring extreme focus. Shutting out negative and defeatist thoughts is key to recovering from career threatening injuries.   

Marijuana has the potential to become an integral part of an athlete’s mental diet helping them improve their brain performance to increasing their endurance to a long successful career.

What is flip-side of using cannabis as a recovery agent?

Risk of triggering a heart attack

Recall the anxious moments surrounding Christian Eriksson of Denmark collapsing on the football field in the Euros. Even the mercurial Argentinian striker Sergio Kun Aguero took early retirement after a successful transfer to Barcelona FC. There are many cases of players collapsing on the playing fields during active play.

To make a long story short; even the fittest athlete can have a problematic heart. Know your heart. Cannabis consumption invariably causes increase in heart rate. Hence there is an associated risk of a heart attack within an hour of use. This points to practising extreme caution. AVOID, intense workouts under the influence of weed. It can be dangerous.

This being the case, athletes with a history of heart disease must consult their doctor before including cannabis in their recovery program.

Increased risk of derailment of recovery

Though generally speaking cannabis does uplift the general mood. But, if not taken in proper state of mind, it can also lead to depression. An injured athlete looking at recovery is at delicate state of mind. Expecting cannabis to work like a miracle drug may lead to disillusionment and push an athlete towards depression. It may prove counter-intuitive lower one’s self-belief and motivation. When cannabis not used properly can begins to lead to increase the body’s cortisol levels causing unwanted weight gain, weaken immunity, fluctuating blood sugar levels, and gastrointestinal problems.

Risk of decreased lung capacity – VO2 Max

Healthy lungs are vital to an athlete performing at their peak. Therefore, avoid smoking cannabis if you must. Instead, go for cannabis edible. It is the better way to reap the anti-inflammatory powers of cannabis for faster recovery of your muscles.

Even vaping and dermal patches are recommended than smoking for athletes.

Risk of slackness in reflexes and motor impairment

Your motor skills are severely compromised with the consumption of any intoxicating substance including cannabis. Intake of THC reduces the reflex speeds and overall stability. Therefore, it is best sporting activities including running, swimming, and resistance exercises requiring motor skills operating at optimum levels, should be avoided under the influence of cannabis. However, marijuana known for its healing properties should be used as a recovery supplement for players post workouts.


Cannabis has medical benefits. It can prove to be a boon to athletes and sports enthusiasts in attending their sports related injuries, fatigues and the wear and tear. However, there is still reluctance on many fronts in its acceptance by the society at large. But in the very near future, cannabis will be accepted as a bio-hack, especially by the sporting community. Years if stigmatization is slowly eroding. Permission by the law-makers into deeper and more open research will unravel many ways cannabis can be to good use. However, we also need to ensure that we do not abuse it. Just as we have observed in case of opioids-based pain killers. In order to confer and confirm the status of a bio-hack to cannabis we still have some distance to cover. The best thing is that we are already on our way forward.

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