Cannabis & Sports: Is It Doping?
While myths surrounding cannabis suggest that it turns you into a brain dead waste of space, it is actually used by many as a way of unlocking enhanced creativity, reasoning, and inspiration. There are many writers, artists and musicians out there who use cannabis to help “get themselves out of the way” and allow their ideas and creativity to flow freely – often with great result. But does this enhancement from cannabis go further, such as into the physical and cognitive realms of sport? According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) it does.
You only need to look at the news of the last decade, and you will see a growing number of reports of professional athletes being stripped of their awards, losing sponsorships, or generally being reprimanded by the media for their use of cannabis. There is also a growing trend of cannabis use amongst extreme sports athletes, who are using bud to take themselves to all new levels of accomplishment.
HOW DOES CANNABIS IMPROVE PERFORMANCE?
When you actually analyse the effects of cannabis, it is quite easy to see why it is considered to be performance enhancing. In terms of cognition, it can reduce anxiety and fear; it can put you in “the zone,” and for athletes - especially those who take part in extreme sport and are faced with fear-inducing situations all the time - it can make the difference between triumph and failure.
Ross Rebagliati was fortunate enough not to lose his medal due to marijuana use, but now that it is a banned substance, other athletes are not so lucky.
There is also the notion that cannabis can improve sleep recovery time, making extremely beneficial for athletes competing in multiple events in a short period. It also has implications for oxygenation, concentration, and muscle relaxation – all of which are improved by a bit of MJ.
A CONTRADICTION: MIXED MESSAGES FROM THE MEDIA
You may or may not remember, but a while back Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever to grace this earth, was caught on camera taking a mega rip from a bong. As you can imagine, the media had a field day with the news, and he quickly lost pretty much all endorsement, sponsorship and fame overnight, turning from national hero to supervillain almost instantaneously. It was also brought into question whether his devilish cannabis consumption may have been the reason for such magnificent success at the Olympics. It is a story that has surfaced its head again and again for different athletes as they get caught using weed, including top NFL players and extreme sports athletes.
The thing is though, each time the media reports that an athlete has been doping with cannabis, and thus enhancing their performance/cheating, they help dispel the very myth that they so fiercely defend – that cannabis turns you into a waster. Sure, going overboard can see you stuck in a couch lock for an hour or so, but the idea that regular cannabis use turns you into the equivalent of a brainless zombie has always been tentative at best. You only need to look at the recent ridiculous “Stoner Sloth” campaign from the Australian Government to see the desperate and ridiculous nature of this argument.
So should cannabis use be considered as doping in sports? In theory, yes. It is proven to have beneficial effects that can help push athletes past their normal limits. However, how long these effects persist after use, and the intention behind use need to be taken into account. It is a tricky situation, as cannabinoids can stay in the system for quite a long time. Let’s just hope that the ever emerging research helps sway WADA into taking a more lenient approach – the way they did with caffeine (which also used to be banned).