Science-backed Ways to Use Cannabis to Boost Athletic Performance

It should go without saying that smoking a blunt before running hurdles won’t give you the best time of your life — but that doesn’t mean that cannabis is useless in athletic pursuits. As medicinal and recreational marijuana increases in accessibility, more studies on the drug are confirming that weed can have a positive impact on athletic performance, but only if you use CBD and THC properly.

If you want to use cannabis to run faster, jump higher and generally perform better, read on to learn more about what science has found.

Reducing Inflammation

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, and as such, it is legal across the country. Unfortunately, there is an overabundance of inaccurate information on what CBD does in the body that has led unscrupulous companies to market the drug as a cure-all, aiding everything from menstrual discomfort to diabetes. As yet, science hasn’t been able to confirm that CBD has such astounding medicinal properties, but it does do something that could offer positive benefits across the board: reduce inflammation.

Some early research indicates that CBD can bind to the body’s TRPV1 receptors, desensitizing them to pain and affecting the inflammation response. In animal models, CBD seems to interact with the glycine receptor, which inhibits the body’s ability to transmit pain signals.

The body creates inflammation in its tissues in an effort to protect itself from harm, but inflammation can be uncomfortable, even painful. Athletes experience inflammation after nearly every workout; muscles and joints will swell as the body attempts to repair any tissues that received damage during exercise. A more serious injury, like a stretched ligament or a torn muscle, will remain inflamed for longer. Often, reducing inflammation is a crucial step to recovery, meaning taking CBD can get athletes back on their game sooner.

Treating Muscle Spasms

Though CBD’s effect on the body overall is not well-understood, science has shown time and again that CBD works wonders on the nervous system. Already, CBD is in use in prescription drugs for epilepsy and schizophrenia, and it is in development for treatments for multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

This is excellent news for athletes because a significant amount of their pain and discomfort arises from the nervous system. Specifically, muscle spasms, or the painful, involuntary contractions of muscles, can occur when there is an underlying neurological disease. Athletes who overuse their muscles might damage their nerves, disrupting signals from the spinal cord and harming how the muscle functions, which will result in painful spasms that impair performance. Taking CBD might help the nervous system repair itself and reduce the frequency or intensity of the spasms.

Improving Sleep

Any athlete will tell you that rest and sleep is where you gain strength and speed; as important as your workouts are, catching Z’s is even more important. Some of the world’s best athletes love to boast about how much rest they get per night: Serena Williams packs it in at 7 p.m. to ensure she gets a full eight winks, and Kerri Walsh Jennings is proud to take a couple 30-minute naps during the day.

Thus, athletes who struggle to get enough shuteye probably aren’t performing at their peak. Fortunately, science says that both cannabinoids, THC and CBD, are good for fighting insomnia and bringing on a full night of restful sleep. Cannabis as a whole is a “downer,” meaning it lowers heart rate and encourages relaxation of the muscles and connective tissues. Plus, THC tends to reduce REM sleep, allowing the body to pass almost directly into deep sleep. However, over long stretches, marijuana does seem to inhibit natural sleep, so athletes should only use THC and CBD as a short-term sleep solution.

Restore Mental Acuity

The stereotypical stoner doesn’t have the quickest wit, so you might be surprised to learn that animal models indicate that THC might make your mind a big more agile. In one study, older mice were given low doses of THC, and researchers saw their cognitive functions improve. This matters to athletes because the mental game is usually as vital to success as the physical game; if athletes can’t anticipate their opponents’ moves or recognize obstacles swiftly, they won’t get their body to react in time. Keeping one’s mind sharp is as important as keeping one’s body active.

It should go without saying that too much weed will inhibit your athletic performance — but that doesn’t mean that small, intentional doses of CBD and THC won’t do a world of good. You should consider experimenting with cannabis and cannabinoids in your training schedule to see how the good herb can make you better at your favorite athletic endeavor.