As an athlete who consumes cannabis and educates about the science behind its athletic benefits, I get this question a lot. Is cannabis a PED (Performance Enhancing Drug)? Performance enhancing drugs are any prohibited substances used by athletes to improve athletic performance. Although cannabis has many health and wellness benefits for athletes, it is technically not a performance enhancing drug. CBD was even officially removed from WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Association) list of prohibited substances, starting on January 1, 2018.
In 2017, there was a systematic review published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, focused on the research available regarding cannabis and exercise performance in sports. At the time, it concluded “Only 15 published studies have investigated the effects of THC in association with exercise protocols. Of these studies, none showed any improvement in aerobic performance”, and that “THC does not enhance aerobic exercise or strength.”1 Despite this, THC still remains on WADA’s prohibited substance list.
There have also been studies on the effects of cannabis in relation to athletic performance. One study, published in 2018, in the American Thoracic Society Journals included a randomized controlled trial of people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Part of their objective was “To test the hypothesis that inhaled vaporized cannabis would alleviate exertional breathlessness and improve exercise endurance.”2 This clinical trial only had 16 participants, but after measuring single inhalation doses of vaporized cannabis against breathlessness intensity during exercise, it was concluded “Cannabis had no clinically meaningful positive or negative effect on airway function, exertional breathlessness, and exercise endurance in adults with advanced COPD.”2
Although cannabis has many health and wellness benefits for athletes, it is technically not a performance enhancing drug.
A more recent literary review of research, concerning the relationship between cannabis use and athletic performance, was published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018. It too, concluded cannabis doesn’t enhance athletic performance. “Although cannabis use is more prevalent in some athletes engaged in high risk sports, there is no direct evidence of performance enhancing effects in athletes.” However, they also suggested, “The potential beneficial effects of cannabis as part of a pain management protocol, including reducing concussion related symptoms, deserve further attention.”3
This ties right back into the several health and wellness benefits athletes can get from consuming cannabis, but at the same time, further solidifies cannabis is not a PED. With more research being conducted every year, it’s only a matter of time before WADA removes cannabis from its prohibited substance list as the world continues to recognize the natural benefits of cannabis for athletes.
Running Away from NSAIDs
This entire issue has focused on several pain conditions cannabis can help with and has referenced many scientific studies suggesting the roles cannabis and other plant medicines can play in pain management. With the widespread legalization of medical and adult use cannabis, as well as other substances worldwide, an evolving global culture of self awareness, and accountability for self-care over healthcare, more people are turning to plants over pills. One of those people is accomplished ultrarunner, author, and speaker, Brock Cannon, who is also the Founder and CEO of Prevail Botanicals, where their mission is “Ridding The World Of Ibuprofen One Human At A Time”
Ibuprofen is one of several drugs, along with others like naproxen and aspirin, that are classified as being NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). NSAIDs are used to reduce pain and inflammation, but they’re also known to cause ulcers and bleeding in the intestines. As an ultra runner, in 2016, Brock was taking 2400mg of ibuprofen a day, to treat his pain and inflammation from trail running long distances, up and down the California mountainside. Even though his daily dosage was so high, including 6 pills in the morning, and 6 six at night, he was still in pain, and didn’t feel like the pharmaceuticals were reducing his inflammation. He was also aware of the dangerous side effects associated with their overuse, so he started exploring safer, natural, plant-based alternatives like arnica, turmeric, and eventually CBD.
“I love any plants with medicinal properties,” says Brock. “If you think about how our ancestors operated even just 100 years ago, we didn’t rely on pharmaceuticals that were created in labs. We relied on plants, botanicals, herbs, and medicines that we had pulled and tested directly from nature. One could argue that pharmaceuticals ultimately come from nature, but I feel like the efficacy changes in a big way once it gets in the lab.” This is the reason he created Prevail Botanicals, to offer people a safer alternative to NSAIDs, by providing a natural plant based treatment for pain and inflammation, especially for runners.
In 2019, Brock won 1st Place overall at the Almost Lost 25k and Whoos Trail 50k, as well as taking 5th overall at the Born to Run 30 Miler and 14th overall at the Leona Divide 100k. In 2020, he will be taking on his very first 100 mile race, the SISU 100 Miler, and he’ll be using his own Prevail Botanicals to help him through it. From all of us at GRAM, we wish you the best of luck and thank you for advocating for natural plant medicines.
Fighting Old Age with Exercise
It’s a new year, and with the start of every new year, many of us have New Year’s resolutions. In fact, according to a 2018 survey1, 44% of adults in the U.S. are likely to make a New Year’s resolution. In this same survey, the number one resolution was to exercise more, followed by stop smoking, lose weight, be a better person, and eat healthier. All of these top resolutions are centered around taking better care of ourselves, and quite frankly, they should be. We all deserve to be in good physical and mental health, especially seniors.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Adults ages 65 years and older gain substantial health benefits from regular physical activity.”2 These benefits include reducing the risk of several cardiovascular diseases and cancers and can even help prevent type 2 diabetes. The evidence for exercise fighting diseases is overwhelmingly strong. In reference specifically to seniors, “Physical activity is key to preventing and managing chronic disease. Other benefits include a lower risk of dementia, better perceived quality of life, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.”2
Regular physical activity also reduces the risk of falls, which are a common cause of injuries in older adults. Aerobic fitness even improves memory. In a study at the University of Pittsburgh3, they researched the relationship between aerobic fitness and the volume of the hippocampus, which plays a large part in our memory. The research concluded, “Our results clearly indicate that higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with increased hippocampal volume in older humans, which translates to better memory function.”
So we know we want to exercise. There are tremendous health benefits for doing so: improving our quality of life and offering sustained independence for seniors, but how can cannabis play a role in exercising? The answer is easy, and it’s however you prefer. If you’re already consuming cannabis in some way, I suggest you keep your current routine, begin an exercise program, and find out how you prefer to incorporate it into your program. If you’re consuming flower or vaporized concentrates, try it about 30 minutes prior to beginning exercise. I personally find consuming cannabis flower prior to exercise helps motivate me to get active and makes the activity more enjoyable. Edibles should be used with caution unless you already consume them regularly, and are familiar with their onset and effects. Tinctures and oils are great to use as a daily supplement, just like B-12, and topical products like creams and patches are perfect for targeting isolated areas of discomfort.
If you’re new to exercise, consuming cannabis, or both, the rules remain the same. Start slow, learn what works best for you, and have fun. Not all exercise is going to the gym. Go on walks with your family, friends, and neighbors. Volunteer for local organizations and sign up for positions that require physical activity. Even activities like gardening and dancing are excellent ways to increase your level of fitness, while lowering your risk of disease and encouraging sustained independence alongside a longer and happier life.
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