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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on April 19th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 7

Toke and train? The Benchwarmer considers the debate around cannabis in performance athletics

By KRISTINA SEWELL

It's 4/20, so let's talk about weed and sports.

Bet that got your attention! About 10 years ago, the mention of weed and athletics in the same sentence would have sent people into an indignant panic. But as decriminalization and legalization is increasing across the United States, cannabis is becoming more widely used by performance and endurance athletes alike. This new issue, once so taboo, is an important conversation for the world of sports and its athletes.

Let me preface everything by establishing this: I am a softball coach and former NCAA athlete. In no way do I condone the use of cannabis, legal or otherwise, for underage and collegiate athletes. While I respect the opinions of those who use it, I cannot support the lines being blurred with drug use and education. I understand that the views of cannabis are changing, but education remains a federally funded program. As long as we are clear on this point, we can move on.

Cannabis, marijuana, grass, whatever you want to call it, has been a hotly debated topic for decades that has often commandeered politics. While the general perception and climate toward cannabis is shifting, there still remains a large group of people who are staunchly divided on the topic. In addition, weed remains a Schedule 1 Drug in the eyes of the federal government.

This has made it almost impossible for scientists to research the physiological effects of weed on the body. Currently, both sides of the issue have contradicting research on the effects of marijuana. One side has research that suggests the dangers of cannabis use, while the other side has research that suggests the benefits of cannabis use.

But in recent years, cannabis use has sparked a new debate in a different realm: athletics. Marijuana is now being considered as a performance-enhancing drug, but again, there is not currently enough research to fully support this hypothesis. Scholarly journals and news outlets are exploring this issue through interviews and research conducted on athletes who use cannabis while training.

A recent article in Men's Fitness, "Does pot make you a better athlete?" by Frederick Dreier, interviewed an anonymous triathlete and former Division I soccer player. The triathlete, referred to as "Cliff," trains 23 hours a week and regularly competes in Olympic distance triathlons. He consumes marijuana through high dose edibles, multiple times a day. Cliff was quoted as saying that "marijuana is a genetically engineered workout supplement" that helps him stay focused on his form and slow his thoughts and anxiety.

Business Insider spoke with several professional athletes who swear by cannabis's performance gains, believing that it also allows for faster recovery time. And a growing body of NFL players are using cannabis instead of addictive painkillers to alleviate pain from game-related injuries.

These recent claims and revelations regarding cannabis and athletics present an important conversation, one that has yet to be had. I think that it is still a difficult issue to address adequately, for many reasons. The first being, federal and state governments have yet to reach an agreement about the drug. It presents a sticky situation for athletes as it is federally illegal, and athletes perform under the expectation that they will not partake in those activities if they want to continue competition. But as certain states adjust the laws surrounding the drug, athletes are considering using it to train. And governing bodies, like the International Olympic Committee for instance, did not have marijuana on its banned substances list until recently.

Another issue is the lack of research on the true physiological effects of pot on endurance and performance athletes. Some research suggests that using weed before exercise helps increase blood and resistance in the lungs; this would be helpful for distance runners, swimmers, and triathletes. However, some research shows that cannabis impairs hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and certain motor skills, which presents an issue for most other sporting events.

But outside of the facts that can be proven and not proven when it comes to weed and athletics, I think there are some ethical considerations that need to be included in the impending conversation. The first thing to consider is that if we are going to deny the use of steroids in athletics, is it hypocritical to allow marijuana use? If it does have benefits, does that present an unfair advantage? If it becomes acceptable for use among endurance and professional athletes, are we setting a bad example/precedent for collegiate and underage athletes?

I accept that times and perspectives are changing and perhaps for the better, but I think there are certain lines that should not be crossed when it comes to athletics. I fear for the integrity of athletics these days. Regardless of differing opinions, we need to have a rational conversation about this and decide based on what is best for athletes and sports, not for political and monetary agendas.

Cannabis and its use in athletics is a tricky subject with a variety of valid opinions and facts coming from both sides, and it presents important questions for coaches and governing bodies.

But what do I know? I'm just a Benchwarmer, acting as a neutral presenter the best that I can.

Sports columnist Kristina Sewell smells something funny. Tell her your thoughts via Managing Editor Joe Payne at jpayne@santamariasun.com.




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