Cannabis has not always enjoyed the ever-growing acceptance it currently enjoys. Not so long ago, you wouldn’t have been able to load a Web site like Thick Ass Glass and peruse colorful, creative water pipes, at https://www.thickassglass.com/collections/water-pipes-1, nor was it acceptable to openly admit marijuana use. The public had a poor picture of cannabis users painted largely by a poorly educated government that lumped it with other drugs. So, how did cannabis gain the acceptance it has? How did the community change the perception of marijuana smokers from high school stoners to everyday people? The transition began in the 1970s and continues today, led by, somewhat surprisingly, world-class athletes.
Pot and Athletic Training
Increasingly, athletes turn to marijuana as a natural substance to assist in training. Cyclists, runners, swimmers, ballers, body builders and prize fighters find the herb helps prevent soreness, enhance sleep, get loose for workout, and release inhibitions that may hold them back from better performance. Weed also produces an effect similar to the runner’s high, a rush of endorphins and anandamide, a cannabinoid the human body naturally produces in the bloodstream after exercise. Having the high at the beginning of the exercise routine or run helps the athlete focus on the experience itself instead of counting the miles or reps left to go. This improves their training leading up to competition.
Whether you smoke, vape or eat marijuana, the cannabinoids in it work with your brain and body receptors to regulate pain, appetite, emotions, and memory. One of its chemical compounds, cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive substance, causes the calm, relaxed feeling, while its tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive substance causes euphoria, relaxed inhibitions, lack of focus, and drowsiness. Some of its effects explain why most athletes use it in training, but not just before competition. For instance, it can negatively affect coordination, explains Amanda Feilding, director of The Beckley Foundation, a UK drug policy research non-profit. Some balance that with its inhibition relaxation which can enhance risk-taking behavior, a plus in some athletics where guts lead to glory, such as prize fighting. It also increases heart rate, so athletes may “reach their limits more quickly,” Feilding explained. Consistent use can cause impaired short-term memory, decreased alertness, lower reaction time, accelerate muscle fatigue which leads to shorter exercise sessions or lessens ability to perform long-distance and can cause cardiovascular disease.
Finding the Balance
Athletes and their trainers have helped find the balance, using and promoting CBD-only options, and alternative intake methods, such as vaping, oral medicines, and edibles. These methods also protect their lungs from the toxic substances in smoke. Vaping, the healthiest way to ingest cannabis, and edibles also provide an enhanced high and the effects last longer.
Open use among world-class athletes went hidden for many years, but athletes like NBA great Bill Walton openly admitted to pot use as early as the 1970s, beginning the acceptance of its use. His open use went back to his college days at UCLA where it is said he was the only player John Wooden allowed to smoke it. If one of the greatest basketball players of all-time used it regularly, it couldn’t be all bad, people began to think. Following in his court steps, another NBA great, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also openly admitted to marijuana use. Basketball players continue to use marijuana openly. The Utah Jazz’s Josh Howard discussed his offseason use of the herb on ESPN Dallas’ “The Michael Irvin Show.”
Basketball players aren’t the only ones using cannabis to enhance their training. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of 23 gold medals, uses cannabis. He’s even been photographed using it. The most decorated Olympian of all-time with 28 total medals enhanced his training and recovery with the herb.
Some athletes go even further than use and advocacy. Prize fighter Nick Diaz, who competes in mixed marital arts and boxing, advocates marijuana use to enhance training. He also competes in triathlons. The former Strikeforce welterweight champion, now competing in the UFC, leads the way in advocacy by giving interviews, supporting legalization, and partaking openly. He has been suspended three times by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for testing positive for marijuana. The last suspension, which ended early due to an intense legal battle, was to last five years. Diaz’s horrified fans mounted a White House petition campaign that netted more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days, putting the athlete’s suspension on the official White House agenda. Between his fans and attorneys, the NASC reduced the five years to 18 months, and allowed a payment plan for its hefty fines. While fans wait for the announcement of Diaz’s return to the octagon, he and younger brother Nathan, who also competes in the UFC and in triathlons, have debuted their own rolling papers, vape cartridge line, and a line of paraphernalia products.
As legalization for medicinal use becomes more common, and some states move to legalize marijuana completely, the cannabis community need only look at professional athletics to find some of the major catalysts in that change. Top performing athletes continue to show that used properly with moderation, cannabis can enhance the user’s life and performance.