Marijuana: Can it enhance athletic performance?


    After his super fight loss to Sergio Martinez in 2012, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr tested positive for marijuana. As a result, the Mexican was fined an undisclosed penalty and suspended for a year.
    So what is marijuana?

    Marijuana is an illegal drug produced from the dried leaves, stems, seeds and/or flowers of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa, that is usually smoked. There are many slang terms for marijuana, including pot, grass, weed, and Mary Jane.

    The drug is, by far, the most widely used illicit substance in the United States.

    All forms of the drug are mind-altering and the drug’s psychoactive effects occur within minutes of inhalation, usually lasting anywhere from 2-4 hours.

    Most experts assert marijuana has no athletic-related performance-enhancing potential and, under its influence, is believed to:

    • Impair hand-eye coordination
    • Reduce reaction timing and motor coordination
    • Reduce motor coordination and perceptual accuracy
    • Impair concentration
    • Increase heart rate and fatigue
    • Also, experts have stated skill impairments due to marijuana inhalation may last up to 24 to 36 hours after usage.

    After Julio Cesar Chavez Jr’s positive result, his promoter, Bob Arum, told Dan Rafael at ESPN, “If there was a trace of marijuana, to me, it’s not the same as using a performance-enhancing drug. That is cheating.”

    And while most, especially those who believe marijuana should be tolerated more than harmful drugs such as steroids and HGH, would agree with Mr. Arum, one fight aficionado and the alleged user does not.

    Early in 2012, UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, allegedly an avid weed smoker, stated fighters can get some benefit from using marijuana if they know what they’re doing.

    From Rogan’s appearance on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani in February 2012:

    “I think it (marijuana) is a performance-enhancing drug. If it wasn’t, a huge majority of jiu-jitsu guys wouldn’t be using it before they train. A lot of Brazilian guys use marijuana before they train. A lot of American jiu-jitsu guys use it before they train. And they don’t do it because it hurts them; they do it because it helps them.”

    “I think if testosterone is legal, you can easily make the argument that marijuana should be legal under a doctor’s prescription. I do believe that they’re both performance-enhancing substances. I think that testosterone is, in fact, more of a performance-enhancer.”

    Rogan stated on his blog:

    “I like to smoke pot and work out.”

    “Getting high and working out is one of the least talked about and least appreciated pleasures of fitness. Lifting weights is fun when you’re under the spell, cardio is cool too, but for me, nothing compares to getting really high and hitting the heavy bag.”

    “Two tokes of the good is usually all it takes to start the enchanted wave – 3 if I wanna go deep.”

    Can marijuana actually enhance athletic performance?

    Its well-known marijuana decreases perceptions of pain, which is why it is used medicinally. As a result, its pain-reducing benefits – whether during or after training – may be enticing for combatants in grueling, highly-physical sports such as boxing and MMA.

    And if a user doesn’t compete stoned, BUT gets high during training sessions or right after, can the drug have any benefit? Can a fighter train under the influence of marijuana and gain some kind of unfair advantage while competing sober?

    Here are some interesting comments from a few forums:

    “I used to smoke a little right before baseball and I was the best center fielder on the team, and now that I’m in college I compete in flag football and I’m much more focused and fluid in my movements.”

    “In high school, I ran cross country and did track (400m and 800m). I went to track and cross country state when I was a sophomore and a junior. I would smoke before and after races and practice so that I could run better. weed affects different people in different ways for me it makes me feel super active and crazy for the first hour that I’m stoned plus I don’t feel much pain so I can push myself harder than I would normally be able to.”

    “Don’t understand a lot of the scientific talk on here but I feel very strongly from 10 years of experience of smoking the stuff in question that there is NO WAY you could call it performance-enhancing!”

    As someone who doesn’t use marijuana, I simply don’t know the answer to what is arguably a very interesting debate.

    However, I’m willing to bet marijuana doesn’t enhance a fighter’s endurance, speed or strength – BUT it may help some with concentration, relaxation, confidence (via a false sense of security), and the ability to endure greater pain while under the influence.

    The psychoactive effects, instead of the physical benefits (a la steroids and HGH), could be a form of (unfair) enhancement on their own… while under the influence, of course.

    So what about users not under the influence when competing?

    If a fighter under the influence of marijuana can push himself harder in training, does he reap the physical benefits of that extra push while competing sober? After all, he’s pushed his body harder during training.

    Has someone looked into that?

    For the few benefits it may produce, there are seemingly a greater number of cons. And while it’s still unlikely marijuana can be a direct PED, can it be used indirectly to unfairly enhance performance via nontraditional means?

    Is marijuana a PED?

    The subject deserves more research.